Sunday, March 1, 2015

Article review on racial color-blindness and "microinvalidations"

I had to review a modern scholarly article on race for one of my classes, and this is what I came up with. The first few paragraphs are just summary, and kind of dry, but the last three paragraphs get into my personal opinions on the concept of "microinvalidation" as the authors describe it, and are slightly more interesting and debatable.

Journal: Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, Vol 20(4), Oct, 2014. Special Section: Race and Ethnicity in the Workplace.
See no evil: Color blindness and perceptions of subtle racial discrimination in the workplace. pp. 499-507.
Authors: Lynn R. Offerman, Tessa E. Basford, Raluca Graebner, Salman Jaffer, Sumona Basu De Graaf, and Samuel E. Kaminsky, George Washington University Department of Organizational Sciences and Communication

The article “See no evil: Color blindness and perceptions of subtle racial discrimination in the workplace” by Offerman, et al analyzed to what extent the perception of racial discrimination in a work environment was influenced by the “color-blindness” of an individual’s attitude towards race. An individual’s level of “color-blindness” – defined by the authors as a belief “that race does not and should not matter” – was measured according to their relative ignorance of racial privilege, institutional discrimination, and overt racial issues, as articulated by Neville, Lily, Duran, Lee and Brown (2000) in their well-known Color Blind Racial Attitudes Scale (CoBRAS). The racially discriminatory interactions which the individuals were made to perceive were a series written vignettes describing microaggressions, which the researchers placed into the three categories defined by Sue, et al in 2007: microinvalidations, microinsults, and microassaults.

The authors give a brief head nod to the idea that color-blindness is often interpreted by members of the general public to mean “seeing people as fundamentally similar and treating all individuals equally,” which many consider “fair and not discriminatory.” However, the authors adopt a different position, which they say is more popular among academics in the field: that color-blindness is truly dangerous and undesirable, because it allows racism to go undetected by “denying the racially discriminatory experiences that many members of ethnic minority groups continue to encounter, and reducing sensitivity to potentially important racial differences.” Citing prior empirical work that has linked color-blind attitudes with implicit and explicit racial bias (Richeson and Nussbaum, 2004), an increased likelihood of condoning racially derogatory party images on social network sites (Tynes and Markoe, 2010) and legitimizing ongoing racial disparities (Knowles, Lowery, Hogan and Cho, 2009), the authors hypothesized that color-blindness would also be associated with decreased likelihood of detecting microaggressions. They further hypothesized that color-blindness (which is much more common among whites than non-whites) would be a better predictor of an individual’s likelihood of noticing a microaggression than race alone. Finally, they hypothesized that the relationship between color-blind attitudes and microaggression perception would be stronger among the most subtle and ambiguous category of microaggression (microinvalidation) than in the relatively more obvious sorts (microinsult and microassault, respectively).

Their methodology involved presenting a group of predominantly (77.5%) female student volunteers from a mid-Atlantic university with a series of written vignettes, which the raters had previously classified as either a microinvalidation, microinsult, microassault or a non-discriminatory distractor. The respondents were then told to rate the events on a 13-item scale developed by Graebner et al in 2009 which captured the degree to which a microaggression was perceived, as well as the degree to which it was thought to be “intentionally discriminatory” by an actor who as “aware of the racial undertones of his actions.” These answers were then compared to the respondent’s answers on a separate, online test measuring the presence of color-blind attitudes administered two weeks later, without notifying the respondents that the two tests were being used for the same study. The results confirmed or partially confirmed most of the researchers’ initial hypothesis...

Overall I found the study intriguing and informative, but I did have a few objections to their definition and method of measuring so-called “microinvalidations”. First, the definition they employed (originally fashioned by Sue et al., 2007) was said to include any behaviors which “convey the myth of societal meritocracy.” But what they refer to as a “myth” is in reality a long-running debate about the extent to which the outcomes of our lives are determined by our environment, fate, or treatment at the hands of others, versus the extent to which those outcomes are determined by personal characteristics like intelligence, work ethic, or other traits usually seen as “merit.” I can understand how claiming we have a complete meritocracy would invalidate the experiences of racial minorities facing sizable oppression. But in truth, very few people are absolutists on either side of this debate: unless the authors contend that our natural talents and abilities have no bearing whatsoever on the success we experience in life, they too believe in at least some small degree of meritocracy. Precisely how much meritocracy is present in our society today is not a matter of objective truth or disprovable “myth”, but of great and ongoing dispute among philosophers and social scientists alike. The researchers appear to consider any disagreement with a nonwhite employee regarding this matter as a form of racial discrimination, which strikes me as an extremely broad definition.

Similarly, on the 20-item CoBRAS test they borrowed from Neville, et al, the way they sought to ascertain an individual’s knowledge or ignorance of “institutional discrimination” was through the respondent’s agreement or disagreement with the statement “social policies, such as affirmative action, discriminate unfairly against White people.” I do not consider this question a sound measure of someone’s blindness to institutional discrimination. Fairness is an inherently subjective value, and affirmative action is a complex and controversial matter on which sympathetic, educated, multicultural and racially-aware people can and do disagree. It is reasonable for the authors to argue that the people who think affirmative action is unfair to White people are wrong, and to do so forcefully. It is another thing entirely for them to say believing it is unfair denotes factual ignorance of institutional discrimination, and thus implies the “color-blind” attitude they denigrate throughout the piece. Such assumptions undercut the authors’ claims of empirical objectivity, making their research less useful to those who don’t already agree with them on those matters.

Finally, one of the vignettes they presented as an illustrative example of a “microinvalidation” was “A Black employee is told he’s overreacting to comments made by a peer that the employee thinks may be racially motivated.” I agree that this meets Sue’s 2007 definition of a microinvalidation as an action which excludes, negates or nullifies the thoughts, feelings or experiences of people of color. Furthermore, I understand why people of color must be given broad deference to adjudicate which comments are and are not racially motivated, and ample opportunity to voice their underrepresented and historically marginalized viewpoints without being silenced by those who lack such perspective. Even so, I can’t help but thinking the actual content of the comments themselves is relevant to how “aggressive” this particular microaggression would be in context. What if they use the word “niggardly” in a sentence about fiscal restraint, for example? Many people mistake this word as a derivative of the racial epithet, when in reality it has entirely separate etymological origins and meaning that long predate the actual slur. A tendency towards trusting minority experiences is not the same as absolute deference to everything they allege on racial matters, and genuine misinterpretations happen all the time. So I’m not sure if enough information was provided here for the respondent to determine whether a “racially motivated” microinvalidation occurred.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The NFL makes a poor scapegoat for society's domestic violence problem

Zachary Schlosberg's recent article on domestic violence in football omits the crucial fact that NFL players commit domestic violence at a much lower rate than the general population: roughly half as often as men the same age nationwide. Interestingly, the NFL rate is also lower than the NBA rate. Any domestic violence is too much, but this discredits the narrative that it’s inordinately prevalent in professional football.

Hours after the article was posted, the Academy Award for Best Picture was presented by famed actor Sean Penn. In the 1980’s, Penn was arrested for domestic assault of his then-wife Madonna, whom he supposedly struck with a baseball bat. Mel Gibson, Nicolas Cage, and many other Hollywood stars have been arrested on similar charges. Is the entire film industry also “disgraceful” for doing so little to fix the problem?

Selective outrage against the NFL reflects a deeper distrust of football itself, which long predates Ray Rice or Adrian Peterson. While Hollywood is full of unimposing drama geeks, the NFL is full of hulking jocks who make money through violence, so we’re predisposed to see them as brutish. Schlosberg reveals his own distaste for the sport when he claims the NFL "cares only about reproducing its own ugliness and turning its evils into more profit." He’s free to think football is ugly and evil, but it’s unfair to let that color his perception of the players' behavior off the field.

We all have an obligation to address domestic violence. Scapegoating sports won’t help.

Monday, February 16, 2015

What would happen if we invade Iraq to go after ISIS?

A social media acquaintance recently posted a link to the horrid video of ISIS beheading 21 Coptic Christians, accompanied by the message "Congress and the President must act!". I replied asking him which action he would like them to undertake, and he said that while he wasn't an expert on the details, he'd support some kind of invasion with allied forces, ideally without any nation building component. He also asked me what the non-interventionist approach to this sort of problem would be. This was my reply.

An invasion would succeed rather quickly in terms of territorial advancement. We have tanks, they don't, that sort of thing. We'd kill a few, lose only a handful, and drive the rest of them from the field within months if it even took that long.

would then happen is ISIS would go underground and fight an insurgency war very similar to the one we just got out of against Al Qaeda. This would give us two options:

1. Leave, watch ISIS come back out from under their rock and continue doing what they were doing before we momentarily interrupted them.

2. Stick around as an occupying counterinsurgency force AGAIN, trying to pick off ISIS whenever they pop their heads up, rebuild the same Iraqi troops we just unsuccessfully trained for a decade, with no clear end state and tons of civilians being caught in the cross fire. Last time we did this, there were more global terrorists when we left than there were when we arrived, because the middle east hated our drones and occupation so much that the terrorists recruited faster than we could kill them. This would go on indefinitely, until we quit, which returns us to option #1.

Listen, my blood curdles when I see these videos too. If I'm sent there, I'll have no moral qualms whatsoever about fighting them. If there were a button I could press to make all of them die, I would press it and the world would be better off. But there exists no such button, and hawkish bluster doesn't provide one.

So to answer your question, the non-interventionist position is just general skepticism about the wisdom of foreign intervention - the same skepticism you apply to the government's likelihood of succeeding without unintended consequences for economic regulations. That doesn't mean there aren't a few scenarios in which it's worth it, and perhaps this is one of them - that's for people with higher rank than me to decide. All I know is that there will never be a day when the US finally kills the last terrorist. If terrorism is to end over the long term, its demise will not be externally orchestrated: that requires a social change that will have to come from within the region. We can only hasten that day's arrival through soft power by exporting our culture and building our peaceful, relatively tolerant democracy so high and enticing that the people of the middle east will come to yearn for it, and so make radical violent Jihad socially unacceptable by comparison. Eliminating excuses for them to view the west as an imperial Christian conqueror wouldn't hurt either.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

More Rand Paul media coverage nonsense

Episode #2 of the Bullshit Media Coverage of Rand Paul Chronicles picks up where we left off in Episode #1: this whole vaccine business (you can read Episode 1 in the Chronicles here, for some helpful background).

On February 5th, The Washington Post posted this article as a news feature (not under the opinion section, mind you). Co-author David A. Fahrenthold has a history of reporting negative things about Paul, so much so that he inspired these September 2014 protests from the Paul camp. Their text is highlighted in blue, while my responses are in black. Paragraph breaks may sometimes be added or subtracted from their original text, and accompanying pictures (usually of Rand Paul scowling) have have been omitted.

For Rand Paul, a rude awakening to the rigors of a national campaign

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) found himself in hot water this week over his comments about child vaccination. (John Locher/AP)
David A. FahrentholdMatea Gold February 5
Rand Paul’s plan to get himself elected president relies on two long-shot bets coming true.
So far, neither one seems to be going well.

Paul’s first wager is that his “libertarian-ish” ideas will manage to attract Republicans mad about regulation and Democrats mad about government spying — forming an entirely new American voting bloc. “The leave-me-alone coalition,” Paul calls it.

I pause here to point out that throughout the article, they never return to this point to explain why this bet is a "long shot," nor why it "doesn't seem to be going well." They just say so. In truth, Paul is polling near the top of the Republican hopefuls and usually polls the strongest against likely Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in a head-to-head match-up. His shot doesn't appear much longer than anyone else's - though it might become so if the media repeats it often enough. This is a classic marginalization tactic: when mainstream, DC-centered outlets like the Washington Post portray Paul as a radical who can't win, everything that follows is filtered through the lens of expectations they've placed before the reader's eyes. Support that might otherwise have been won is abandoned in the belief it is a futile effort. Ideas the reader might otherwise agree with are preemptively discredited for fear of being cast as an unreasonable "extremist" oneself.

The second bet is a bet on Paul himself — a wager that he’s an unusually talented politician persuasive enough to build a coalition out of groups that have never viewed themselves as allies.
This week, Paul’s ideas put him at the middle of a national controversy when he applied his trademark libertarian, skeptical thinking to the question of childhood vaccines. They should be largely voluntary, Paul said, as a matter of freedom. He also said he had heard of children who “wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.”I don't think it requires skeptical libertarian thinking to say either of those things. Most people have indeed "heard of children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines," including President Barack Obama. But like most people, both Obama and Paul have concluded that the vaccines are not what caused those disorders, which makes them both safe and wise. Like Obama, Paul vaccinates himself and his children, and praises vaccines emphatically and often. Like Paul, Obama has declined to extend that recommended behavior into a legal mandate, even when directly questioned on whether they would support such a law. Medically, legally, and personally, they agree. Vaccines are voluntary in the status quo, and no national politician that I know of has suggested legislation to make them involuntary - libertarian and skeptical or otherwise.

At times, he has seemed uninterested in — or unprepared for — the basic tasks of being a national politician. 

For instance, this week he “shushed” a female interviewer on national TV. After his vaccine comments drew angry reactions, he accused the media of misconstruing his remarks about vaccines and mental disorders. “I did not say vaccines caused disorders, just that they were temporally related,” Paul said in a statement. “I did not allege causation.”

They say "for instance," and then what follows is not an instance of what they just said. He shushed an interviewer who was interrupting him (and being so altogether aggressive that she apologized a few minutes later) so he could finish his answer and accurately convey his position. If he is preparing for and interested in a national campaign, not having his answer misconstrued seems imperative. For that same reason, he later clarified his comments sensibly, in a way that meshes with all of his other recorded comments about vaccines to date and should have put the entire discussion to rest. How does that seem uninterested or unprepared?

Media distortion is not evidence of Rand Paul's failure to prepare for media distortion. These incidents only give the appearance of sexism or anti-vaxxer craziness to people who weren't listening to the full context of the interview - which is to say people who heard about them second hand, after other media sites presented them with that context deliberately withheld. News outlets cannot allude to their own sensationalism as an unavoidable feature of the campaign landscape, especially when it's unevenly and selectively applied.

Paul could not be reached for comment for this article, and e-mails seeking comment from aides at his political action committee, RANDPAC, were not returned. A spokesman for Paul’s Senate office, when asked whether Paul could comment about his missteps this week, wrote back with a one-word message.

“Seriously?” spokesman Brian Darling wrote.

Seriously, he was told.

Darling did not reply after that.

Context about the prior animosity between Paul and Fahrenthold is important here, but even independently of that, the matter they asked Paul to comment on - "his missteps this week" - presumes he was at fault for what happened in an antagonistic and condescending way. That alone is a giveaway to the hack-job hit piece the article was always intended to be, and explains why Paul's office wouldn't contribute.

Paul — the son of libertarian leader and three-time presidential candidate Ron Paul — has not formally said he’s running for president. But he’s showing all the symptoms. Rand Paul has hired top-flight GOP operatives, has visited New Hampshire and is planning a trip to Iowa this weekend.
Right now, polls put Paul near the top of a crowded and muddled GOP field.

National surveys have shown him running slightly behind former Florida governor Jeb Bush, with his support at roughly 10 percent among Republican-leaning voters. A recent poll in Iowa showed that 64 percent of likely caucus-goers had a favorable opinion of Paul. That was tied for second, behind former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.

That is better than Paul’s father was doing at the same point four years ago, but not by much.

So if he's second and near the top, why did they say his chances were a long-shot? I guess everyone but Hillary is a long-shot this far away from the race, but I doubt they'd employ the same word choice about Bush or Walker.

He has said his candidacy will work if it catches the country at a fed-up, libertarian moment.
“I think there is a moment that has come to the country, where . . . the ‘leave-me-alone coalition,’ or the limited-government types, [are] the majority,” Paul told a gathering of young libertarians last year. “People aren’t really happy saying, ‘I’m a Republican’ or ‘a Democrat.’ There is a plurality of people, though, that are a little bit of both. . . . We can find that sweet spot, bring those people together.” He would advocate both an old conservative value — “economic liberty,” the right to conduct business without government meddling — with an appeal to “personal liberty,” including traditionally liberal causes such as privacy protections and criminal justice reforms.

A year before the first caucus and 21 months before the general election, it’s impossible to know whether Paul’s libertarian moment will arrive at the right time. The state of the international battle against the Islamic State, for instance, could determine whether Paul’s skeptical views on war seem prescient or out of touch. For Paul, then, it is vital to control the factors that lie within his grasp. In his speech to those young conservatives, Paul said it was important to project a hopeful, almost joyous attitude. “Sugarcoat it with optimism,” he told the crowd, “like a man coming over the hill singing.”

This past week, Paul did not look like a man coming over the hill singing.

You're right, he did not - and that's entirely your fault. You collectively (but especially you individually), as the media outlets who choose which comments are newsworthy, and as the talking heads who choose the light in which to portray those comments, get to decide what Rand Paul looks like, and for month of February you have made a concerted decision to take him down a notch. That was clear before the CNBC interview even happened, when Fahrenthold decided it was a good time to recycle the refuted 2010 non-issue about Rand Paul's National Board of Opthamology. It was clear at the start of the interview, when Evans' opening question began with the words "Did you really just say?". It was clear when her next question began with the words "Maybe you're not aware..." It was clearer yet when her final question began with "speaking of conflict of interest." It was confirmed when Huffington Post, NBC, and the Washington Post plastered their homepages with snippets of Paul's response that indicated his position was the polar opposite of what he'd actually said. And after this article failed to incite enough negative publicity as they would have liked, it was reiterated with a hodge podge of straw-grasping on everything from his college degree to his fabricated homophobia to his alleged doomsday anti-Semitic conspiracies.

“Hey, Kelly! Hey, hey! Shhhhh!” Paul said to CNBC anchor Kelly Evans, putting his finger to his lips, when Evans interrupted him during an interview about a tax proposal. “Calm down a bit here, Kelly. Let me answer the question.”

The "question" Rand Paul was trying to answer here began with "I’m sure you know that most of the evidence on these tax holidays indicate that they actually cost more money than they save…". Next time the media asks Clinton a question like "I'm sure you know that most of the evidence on this thing you support says it's a bad idea that doesn't work...", you tell me what her reaction is. I suspect we might be waiting for a long time, and it's not because the evidence supports her.

On the subject of vaccines, Paul struggled with what might be the first rule of presidential campaigning: Try not to shoot yourself in the foot. And if you do, stop shooting. First, he was asked about vaccinations on Laura Ingraham’s radio show. Paul said that he was not against vaccines but that “most of them ought to be voluntary.”After that raised a controversy, Paul reacted first with sarcasm: “Well, I guess being for freedom would be really, uh, unusual?” he said on CNBC. “I guess I don’t understand the point.”

I don't understand the point either, Randall. Was President Obama also shooting himself in the foot when he agreed that they should be voluntary? What about essentially every other politician in the country, who believes the same thing? Are they unusual? Are they self-destructing? Are they raising a controversy? Or are the people shooting at Rand's feet the ones who persistently try to conflate this common, sensible, status-quo, personal liberty, my-body-my-choice policy with anti-vaxxer lunacy, but only do so for one candidate in particular?

Then he tried spin, saying he hadn’t meant what he’d seemed to say about vaccines and mental disorders. Finally, he sought to play the victim. Paul posted a photo of himself getting a vaccine booster shot on Twitter, with a caption that included the line, “Wonder how the liberal media will misreport this?”

Paul’s handling of the vaccine issue is one of several instances recently in which he has seemed to struggle with the kind of high-pressure interactions that would become run-of-the-mill for a presidential candidate.

Notice how many times in this article Fahrenthold announces that Rand Paul "seemed to _____." He didn't actually say this, but he "seemed to say" it. He might not actually struggle, but he seemed to struggle. He "seemed uninterested". His presidential campaign does not "seem to be going well." This is one of the biggest journalism cop-outs, because it allows writers who pretend to be dealing in facts to present their own opinions: so long as at least one person thinks X, it is technically an objective statement that to some people X "seems" true. You can see why that's problematic when the one person is the author himself.

Last month, Paul spoke onstage — along with fellow senators and proto-candidates Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) — at a gathering of wealthy conservative donors in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Rubio wore a suit. Cruz wore a jacket and slacks. Paul, following a personal fashion trademark, wore blue jeans.

That was viewed by some in the room as inappropriately informal for an aspiring presidential candidate.

Okay. This article has now devolved into unnamed critics second guessing the wardrobe decisions made at a private ranch. Did Mr. Fahrenthold attend this meeting as a reporter for the post? If so, does he also count as "some in the room"? Or was it the wealthy neoconservative sitting next to him who hates Paul's foreign policy views and all-too-happy to invent some trivial criticism? These are the "rigors" of a national campaign that Rand Paul will supposedly have trouble adapting to - putting on a suit?

Paul also stuck out for his tone. He was low-key, almost weary, while the other two were polished and energetic.

Rand Paul is a laid back guy. Supporters would argue that makes him seem more sincere, like he's not putting on a show with false enthusiasm and a phony smile. If Paul's style  doesn't animate you personally, fine, but word choice is everything. When Barack Obama goes casual, he's calm, cool collected, composed, confident, relaxed. When Paul does it, he's weary. This resembles the GOP tripe about Obama saying "uh" too much - attacking the manner in which ideas are presented instead of the ideas themselves. It's scraping the bottom of the barrel.

The rest of the article - a few paragraphs talking about his difficulty wooing neoconservative and socially conservative voters, which I won't reproduce - is actually fair. It's doubtful these voters will support Paul as their first choice in the primary, and remains to be seen if he can win without them. Maybe he can't. Exploring why would make for an interesting article.

But that's not the article the Washington Post published, and there's a reason for that: they just don't like him very much.

A week of media nonsense about Rand Paul

When I concluded my last post lamenting the media’s unfair treatment of Rand Paul, I hinted at my premonition of more biased hack-jobs in the months to come. I sometimes wish I wasn’t so right all the time, because what followed has been the single most slanted week of media coverage about a single individual that I can recall. The stories I’ve seen can be divided into four so-called “controversies”, each of which were entirely invented by people who, through some combination of profitable sensationalism and political bias, eagerly want Rand Paul to be mired in controversy:
  1. Continuing fallout from the same cherry-picked statement on vaccines I derided in my last post.
  2. Accusations of sexism for “shushing” the female reporter who was talking over his response to her aggressive questioning.
  3. A slew of fear-mongering about the “Audit the Fed” bill Rand Paul has nearly guided through Congress.
  4. Headlines suggesting Paul intentionally affiliated with an anti-gay hate speech documentary, when in reality the documentary merely used a clip of him discussing states rights without his knowledge.
  5. Mainstream accusations that Paul was disingenuously inflating his academic resume, when he was actually underselling it.

Consequently, I have decided to create running chronicle of all the articles I see from mainstream news sites which, in my opinion, treat Rand unfairly. In the buildup to the 2016 presidential election, I hope this list illustrates how differently the media treats even “libertarian-ish” candidates from more mainstream options like Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton. The goal is not to allege outright conspiracy, but to illuminate the major media outlets’ organizational bias for the narrow range of entrenched policy options Washington insiders consider credible. 

How many I post will likely be much more limited by how many I have time to refute than it will be by how much there is out there to be refuted, but I’ll try to at least save the stories for later reference. For now, I’ll dive into the articles I read this week, and hyperlink the above list to the corresponding episodes as I complete them.