Google’s Algorithm: History of Racism Against Black Women | Time

Interesting and convincing study of embedded bias in algorithms by Safiya Umoja, author of  Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism:

…Although I focus mainly on the example of black girls to talk about search bias and stereotyping, black girls are not the only girls and women marginalized in search. The results retrieved two years into this study, in 2013, representing Asian girls, Asian Indian girls, Latina girls, white girls, and so forth reveal the ways in which girls’ identities are commercialized, sexualized or made curiosities within the gaze of the search engine. Women and girls do not fare well in Google Search — that is evident.

Of course, these problems extend to non-gendered racism, as well. On June 6, 2016, Kabir Ali, an African American teenager from Clover High School in Midlothian, Va., tweeting under the handle @iBeKabir, posted a video to Twitter of his Google Images search on the keywords “three black teenagers.” The results that Google offered were of African American teenagers’ mug shots, insinuating that the image of Black teens is that of criminality. Next, he changed one word — “black” to “white” — with very different results. “Three white teenagers” were represented as wholesome and all-American. The video went viral within 48 hours, and Jessica Guynn, from USA Today, contacted me about the story. In typical fashion, Google reported these search results as an anomaly, beyond its control, to which I responded, “If Google isn’t responsible for its algorithm, then who is?” One of Ali’s Twitter followers later posted a tweak to the algorithm made by Google on a search for “three white teens” that now included a newly introduced “criminal” image of a white teen and more “wholesome” images of black teens.

What we know about Google’s responses to racial stereotyping in its products is that it typically denies responsibility or intent to harm, but then it is able to “tweak” or “fix” these aberrations or “glitches” in its systems.

What we need to ask is why and how we get these stereotypes in the first place and what the attendant consequences of racial and gender stereotyping do in terms of public harm for people who are the targets of such misrepresentation. Images of white Americans are persistently held up in Google’s images and in its results to reinforce the superiority and mainstream acceptability of whiteness as the default “good” to which all others are made invisible. There are many examples of this, where users of Google Search have reported online their shock or dismay at the kinds of representations that consistently occur. Meanwhile, when users search beyond racial identities and occupations to engage concepts such as “professional hairstyles,” they have been met with the kinds of images seen below. The “unprofessional hairstyles for work” image search, like the one for “three black teenagers,” went viral in 2016, with multiple media outlets covering the story, again raising the question, can algorithms be racist?

Where are black girls now?

Since I began the pilot study in 2010 and collected data through 2016, some things have changed. In 2012, I wrote an article for Bitch Magazine, which covers popular culture from a feminist perspective, after some convincing from my students that this topic is important to all people — not just black women and girls. I argued that we all want access to credible information that does not foster racist or sexist views of one another. I cannot say that the article had any influence on Google in any definitive way, but I have continued to search for black girls on a regular basis, at least once a month, and I can report that Google had changed its algorithm to some degree about five months after that article was published. After years of featuring pornography as the primary representation of black girls, Google made modifications to its algorithm, and the results as of the conclusion of this research can be seen here:

No doubt, as I speak around the world on this subject, audiences are often furiously doing searches from their smart phones, trying to reconcile these issues with the momentary results. Some days they are horrified, and other times, they are less concerned, because some popular and positive issue or organization has broken through the clutter and moved to a top position on the first page. Indeed, as my book was going into production, news exploded of biased information about the U.S. presidential election flourishing through Google and Facebook, which had significant consequences in the political arena.

I encourage us all to take notice and to reconsider the affordances and the consequences of our hyper-reliance on these technologies as they shift and take on more import over time. What we need now, more than ever, is public policy that advocates protections from the effects of unregulated and unethical artificial

via Google’s Algorithm: History of Racism Against Black Women | Time

Liberals say immigration enforcement is racist, but the group most likely to benefit from it is black men

Not quite sure whether the studies cited represent a consensus view or not. Look forward to any comments by those more familiar with the various studies:

President Trump’s election victory over Hillary Clinton seemed to herald a new era for border security and immigration enforcement. But his polarizing and occasionally ignorant comments about immigrants have handed his adversaries a convenient pretext for stymying compromise on immigration reform: racism.

Left-leaning advocacy groups and a host of Democrats all too often shy away from the specifics of the debate and instead lean on cries of bigotry, resorting to claims like that of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who has described Trump’s approach to immigration reform as an effort to “make America white again.”

Claims that immigration enforcement equals racism ignore the reality that the group most likely to benefit from a tougher approach to immigration enforcement is young black men, who often compete with recent immigrants for low-skilled jobs.

This dynamic played out recently at a large bakery in Chicago that supplies buns to McDonald’s. Some 800 immigrant laborers, most of them from Mexico, lost their jobs last year after an audit by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The Cloverhill Bakery, owned by Aryzta, a big Swiss food conglomerate, had to hire new workers, 80% to 90% of whom are African American. According to the Chicago Sun Times, the new workers are paid $14 per hour, or $4 per hour more than the (illegal) immigrant workers.

In this case, and in many others, the beneficiaries of immigration enforcement were working-class blacks, who are often passed over for jobs by unscrupulous employers.

The labor force participation rate for adult black men has declined steadily since the passage of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which ushered in a new era of mass immigration. In 1973, the rate was 79%. It is now at 68%, and the Bureau of Labor projects that it will decline to 61% by 2026.
The beneficiaries of immigration enforcement [are] working-class blacks, who are often passed over for jobs by unscrupulous employers.

In 2016, the Obama White House produced a 48-page report acknowledging that immigration does not help the labor force participation rate of the native-born. It concluded, however, that “immigration reform would raise the overall participation rate by bringing in new workers of prime working age.”
Although the report used the term “new workers,” Democrats may also be tempted by the prospect of new voters. But they should be aware that in courting one group, they risk losing others.

African Americans tend to be a reliable voting bloc for the Democratic Party, but they have repeatedly indicated in public opinion surveys that they want significantly less immigration.

A recent Harvard-Harris poll found that African Americans favor reducing legal immigration more than any other demographic group: 85% want less than the million-plus we allow on an annual basis, and 54% opted for the most stringent choices offered — 250,000 immigrants per year or less, or none at all.

These attitudes are rational.

In a 2010 study on the social effects of immigration, the Cornell University professor Vernon Briggs concluded: “No racial or ethnic group has benefited less or been harmed more than the nation’s African American community.”

The Harvard economist George Borjas has found that, between 1980 and 2000, one-third of the decline in the employment among black male high school dropouts was attributable to immigration. He also reported “a strong correlation between immigration, black wages, black employment rates, and black incarceration rates.”

In a 2014 paper on neoliberal immigration policies and their effects on African Americans, the University of Notre Dame professor Stephen Steinberg argued that, thanks to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, “African Americans found themselves in the proverbial position of being ‘last hired.'” Steinberg also noted that “immigrants have been cited as proof that African Americans lack the pluck and determination that have allowed millions of immigrants from Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean to pursue the American dream.”

The struggles of black men obviously cannot all be linked to immigration, but it’s clear that the status quo does not benefit them.

As elected leaders consider changing our immigration laws, the interests of America’s most vulnerable citizens shouldn’t be overlooked. The first step toward honest reform is for the Democratic Party to admit that while liberal immigration enforcement might help them win new voters, it also harms and disenfranchises their most loyal constituency.

via Liberals say immigration enforcement is racist, but the group most likely to benefit from it is black men

Black Cancer Matters – Susan Gubar, The New York Times

I started following Susan Gubar’s columns during my cancer journey and continue to find them interesting. This column is no exception with its focus on how African Americans are disproportionately affected by cancer with higher mortality rates:

Like many people, I attribute my cancer to bad luck. So the feature-length documentary “Company Town” shocked me. It contends that the economic consequences of racial discrimination increase cancer risk. Watching the movie led me to realize that wretched statistics on cancer mortalities are also linked to racial inequalities. Black cancer should matter, but has it mattered in the past and will it matter in the future?

Company Town,” released in 2016 and available March 20 on iTunes, was co-directed by Natalie Kottke-Masocco and Erica Sardarian. It opens with gospel vocalists singing the words “run down to the river,” a deeply ironic injunction in Crossett, Ark., a setting where a Georgia-Pacific paper and chemical plant — owned by the billionaire Koch brothers — stands accused of polluting local waters. The movie depicts rural people dependent for a livelihood on an industry that they believe is sickening them by contaminating their environment. Most of the men and women dealing with cancer in the area are African-Americans.

We see David Bouie, a Baptist minister who worked in the facility for 10 years, pointing out the houses on his lane. “It’s all around us … cancer, cancer,” he says. “Door-to-door cancer.”

It is difficult to establish a causal connection between hazardous wastes and cancer; however, “Company Town” presents a formidable case. The air, earth and water of Crossett, with its population of about 5,500 people, have been spoiled by harmful fumes and vapors, by chemicals discharged into unlined basins, by fiber products and ash hidden in fields beneath a few inches of dirt and behind fences that do not solve the problem of carcinogens leaching into creeks and wells. Congregants in Pastor Bouie’s church speak as or about the children and adults dying in what amounts to a lethal cancer cluster.

Pastor Bouie organizes his neighbors with the help of a woman who serves as the Ouachita Riverkeeper and a whistle-blower who had been a safety coordinator in the mill. Together, they gain the attention of representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. At hearings, a number of these officials proffer placating but prevaricating reassurances.

Somehow a few days before the arrival of one set of bureaucrats, the smoke from the Georgia-Pacific facility decreases and the air smells better. After the meeting, the noxious plumes reappear.

Government spokespeople, the Koch brothers and the supervisors of Georgia-Pacific dispute the directors’ argument and evidence. Yet “Company Town” mounts a passionate protest on behalf of overlooked victims of corporate negligence and greed.

By putting into play the words “race” and “cancer,” the film motivated me to ponder the impact of race on cancer outcomes nationally — and therefore disentangled from local ecological factors. The big picture is grim.

A 2016 report of the American Cancer Society states that the “five-year relative survival is lower for blacks than whites for most cancers at each stage of diagnosis.” African-American men, for example, are twice as likely to die from prostate cancer. Experts continue to debate why, even as many ascribe this scandalous phenomenon to inequalities in access to screening and treatment.

In women’s cancer, the mortality gap has widened. According to the 2016-18 report on Cancer Facts and Figures for African-Americans, “despite lower incidence rates for breast and uterine cancers, black women have death rates for these cancers that are 42 percent and 92 percent higher, respectively, than white women.” Investigators connect the ghastly numbers to the usual socioeconomic discrepancies but also to biological differences in the malignancies of black women.

With regard to breast cancer, is the mortality gap related to a greater percentage of black women than white women contending with an aggressive form of the disease that lacks estrogen receptors?

Dr. Otis Webb Brawley, the chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, rejects an explanation based on “biological difference,” pointing instead to dietary disparities.

Disadvantaged Americans consume more calories and carbohydrates, “the sort of food that is available in poor areas of inner cities,” Dr. Brawley writes in his book “How We Do Harm.” Greater body weight means African-American girls menstruate earlier and the number of uninterrupted menstrual cycles increases the risk of breast cancer: “The black-white gap in the onset of menstruation and body weight has dramatically widened, which means that the disease disparities will widen also.”

Dr. Brawley quotes an all-white study in Scotland that “found evidence pointing to a correlation between social deprivation and incidence of breast cancer that lacks estrogen receptors.” In addition, he cites the insight of his friend Dr. Samuel Broder, a former director of the National Cancer Institute: “Poverty is a carcinogen.”

Given the mortality discrepancies, it is disturbing that African-Americans are underrepresented as subjects in cancer research, as are other minorities. According to research by Dr. Narjust Duma of the Mayo Clinic, only 6 percent of participants in clinical trials are black, although African-Americans make up approximately 12 percent of the population; Hispanics amount to 3 percent of participants, although they make up about 15 percent of the population.

“If our government doesn’t fix this,” one protester in “Company Town” says, “then I don’t know what kind of government they are.” If we don’t fix this, I chime in, what sort of people are we?

via Black Cancer Matters – The New York Times

Frederick Douglass’s Fight Against Scientific Racism – The New York Times

Good read and reminder of early attitudes and beliefs, and the struggle to overcome them:

The 200th birthday of one of America’s greatest thinkers, Frederick Douglass, is being celebrated this month. Douglass is remembered as many things: a fugitive slave who gained his freedom, an abolitionist, an advocate for women’s rights, a gifted writer and orator. But we should also remember him as someone whose insights about scientific theories of race are every bit as relevant in our era as they were when he wrote them.

When Douglass rose to prominence, in the 1840s, he was living in a world just as excited and anxious about his era’s new inventions, like the railroad and the telegraph, as we are about modern-day innovation. But he understood that the ends to which science could be used were forever bound up with the moral choices of its practitioners. “Scientific writers, not less than others, write to please, as well as to instruct,” he wrote in 1854, “and even unconsciously to themselves (sometimes) sacrifice what is true to what is popular.”

That statement was part of a lecture in which he attacked one of the most prominent scientific fields of the antebellum era: ethnology, or what was sometimes called “the science of race.” Though often dismissed today as pseudoscience, at the time Douglass was writing, it was considered legitimate. The most accomplished scientists engaged in it, and the public eagerly consumed it.

Ethnology was not embraced just by Southerners who supported slavery. Its most important theorists lived in the North: one, Louis Agassiz, taught at Harvard; the other, Samuel George Morton, was president of one of the nation’s leading scientific societies, in Philadelphia.

Agassiz and Morton rejected the 18th-century view of race, which held that all human beings descended from a single pair and that physical differences emerged because of changes in the natural environment.

In preparation for the 1854 lecture, Douglass read dozens of books on ethnology, then dismantled polygenists’ claims one by one. Among the most important to Douglass was Morton’s claim that ancient Egyptians were white. To support his claim that black people were inferior, Morton needed to explain away the fact that ancient Egyptians were Africans, since if they were, it meant that people of African descent had the potential for similar greatness. As proof, Morton noted that the Bible made no mention of Egyptians’ color.

Douglass would have none of it.

He cited text after text, all written by respected European scientists, that noted that ancient Egyptians bore a striking resemblance to modern-day Africans. But more important, he argued that racial descriptors were not mentioned in the Bible because, at that historical moment, race did not exist. It was, as we now say, a social construct, something better understood as a product of history rather than of science.

When Morton assumed that the ancient Israelites, who he believed were white, would have never married ancient Egyptians if they were black, he failed to realize that racial prejudice was a “genuine American feeling,” Douglass wrote. “It assumes that a black skin in the East excites the same prejudice which we see here in the West.” Douglass was saying that we learn racism — we are not born with it.

Of course, engaging with ethnology on its own terms was a dangerous game. It sometimes meant that Douglass perpetuated scientific ways of thinking about race rather than simply dismantling its logic and insisting on race as a product of history. He borrowed from the ethnological theories of his friend James McCune Smith, a fellow black abolitionist and the nation’s first credentialed black physician, to argue that both black and white people would be improved by racial mixing.

Yet it would be wrong to dismiss these ideas as merely the result of Douglass’s own mixed racial heritage — his father, possibly his owner, was white — or as a backhanded insult to black history, to black culture. They were always written in the service of a clear political agenda, one that was radical for his time: full black integration rather than segregation.

In 1887, Douglass traveled to Egypt and published another essay about how the ancient Egyptians were, in fact, African. “I have long been interested in ethnology,” he wrote, and “I have wanted the evidence of greatness under the colored skin to meet and beat back the charge of natural, original and permanent inferiority.” He found it in the ancient pyramids and the majestic sphinxes, with their undeniably African features.

But even as Douglass refused to allow racist scientific theories to go unchallenged, he always understood that science was not the antidote to white people’s racism. There were only so many facts you could give to prove black people’s humanity.

In 1893, two years before his death, he was disturbed by the way the nation’s white scientific elite had represented people of African descent at the World’s Fair in Chicago. Scientists from Harvard and the Smithsonian helped design the exhibition, which mirrored what they took to be humankind’s racial progress from savage to civilized.

The pavilions for Haiti and for African nations, designed as primitive huts, came first. As you walked through the exhibition, you eventually crossed a bridge into the “White City,” which housed marbled pavilions for white nations, showcasing their marvelous scientific inventions.

One day was set aside for black Americans to present their own culture, and the press came ready to lampoon the event. White vendors had their fun too, bringing watermelons by the cartload. Some black leaders called for a boycott, but Douglass insisted that black people engage — after all, here was a chance to showcase black excellence.

But Douglass also wanted to set the record straight about race, or rather, about racism. This time, he did not bother making a scientific argument about black equality. Instead, he got to the heart of the matter and wanted the clutch of white reporters at the event to listen closely, to print it in all their papers.

The problem was not with black people, he said, it was with white people. If they loved their democracy as much as they said they did, they would stop looking to science to make excuses for their own failure to treat black Americans as equal citizens. As he put it: “The true problem is a national problem. There is no Negro problem. The problem is whether the American people have honesty enough, loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough to live up to their own Constitution.”

via Frederick Douglass’s Fight Against Scientific Racism – The New York Times

Stress From Racism May Be Causing African-American Babies To Die More Often : Shots – Health News : NPR

Ongoing impact from micro-agressions or other factors?

“Black babies in the United States die at just over two times the rate of white babies in the first year of their life,” says Arthur James, an OB-GYN at Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University in Columbus. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for every 1,000 live births, 4.8 white infants die in the first year of life. For black babies, that number is 11.7.

The majority of those black infants that die are born premature, says James, because black mothers like Pierce have a higher risk of going into early labor.

Scientists and doctors have spent decades trying to understand what makes African-American women so vulnerable to losing their babies. Now, there is growing consensus that racial discrimination experienced by black mothers during their lifetime makes them less likely to carry their babies to full term.

James, 65, has seen far too many black babies who didn’t survive.

It just doesn’t seem right, says James, who is also African-American. “You ask yourself the question: What is it about being black that places us at an increased risk for that kind of experience?”

A decades-long quest

Richard David, a neonatologist at the University of Illinois of Chicago, has been studying this for decades. When he first began looking into the problem in the 1980s, he says scientists thought the two main culprits were poverty and lack of education.

“We knew African-American women were more likely to be poor,” says David. “We knew that fewer of them had completed their education by the time they were bearing children.”

But David, who at the time was at the Cook County Hospital in Chicago, and his colleague James Collins at Northwestern University Medical School found that even educated, middle-class African-American women were at a higher risk of having smaller, premature babies with a lower chance of survival.

For example, David says, black and white teenage mothers growing up in poor neighborhoods both have a higher risk of having smaller, premature babies. “They both have something like a 13 percent chance of having a low birth weight baby,” he says.

But in higher-income neighborhoods where women are likely to be slightly older and more educated, “among white women, the risk of low birth weight drops dramatically to about half of that, whereas for African-American women, it only drops a little bit.”

In fact, today, a college-educated black woman like Samantha Pierce is more likely to give birth prematurely than a white woman with a high school degree.

“That’s exactly the kind of case that makes us ask the question: What else is there?” says David. “What are we missing?”

Some people suggested that the root cause may be genetics. But if genes are at play, then women from Africa would also have the same risks. So, David and his colleague, Collins, looked at the babies of immigrant women from West Africa. But as they reported in their 1997 study in The New England Journal of Medicine, those babies were more like white babies — they were bigger and more likely to be full term. So, it clearly isn’t genetics, says David.

Then, many years later, David and Collins noticed something startling. The grandchildren of African immigrant women were born smaller than their mothers had been at birth. In other words, the grandchildren were more likely than African-American babies — more likely to be premature.

This was also true of the grandchildren of black women who had emigrated from the Caribbean.

Meanwhile, the grandchildren of white European immigrant women were bigger than their mothers when they were born. David and Collins published their results in 2002 in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

“So, there was something about growing up black in the United States and then bearing a child that was associated with lower birth weight,” says David.

Growing up black and female in America

What is different about growing up black in America is discrimination, says David. “It’s hard to find any aspect of life that’s not impacted by racial discrimination,” he says. “Whether you’re talking about applying for a job, or purchasing a new car, finding housing, getting education … even given equal education, earning the same amount of money, that doesn’t happen. If you’re black, you tend to get less pay.”

As a recent poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found, 92 percent of African-Americans believe that discrimination against African-Americans exists in America today. Higher education and income did not necessarily mean people experienced less discrimination, the poll found.

In 2004, David and Collins published a study in the American Journal of Public Health in which they reported the connection between a mother’s experience of racism and preterm birth. They asked women about their housing, income, health habits and discrimination. “It turned out that as a predictor of a very low birth weight outcome, these racial discrimination questions were more powerful than asking a woman whether or not she smoked cigarettes,” David says.

Other studies have shown the same results.

via Stress From Racism May Be Causing African-American Babies To Die More Often : Shots – Health News : NPR

Poll: 6 In 10 Black Americans Say Police Unfairly Stopped Them Or A Relative : NPR

More interesting polling data confirming what we already know or suspect. Will be interesting to compare these findings with those of other groups that NPR will report on in coming weeks:

A new poll out this week from NPR finds that 60 percent of black Americans say they or a family member have been stopped or treated unfairly by police because they are black. In addition, 45 percent say they or a family member have been treated unfairly by the courts because they are black. The poll is a collaboration between NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The poll reveals the consequences of these stops for black Americans personally and across society — 31 percent of poll respondents say that fear of discrimination has led them to avoid calling the police when in need. And 61 percent say that where they live, police are more likely to use unnecessary force on a person who is black than on a white person in the same situation.

Previous polls have asked similar questions, but ours is unique in that it’s the first to ask about lifetime experiences with policing. It’s part of NPR’s ongoing series “You, Me and Them: Experiencing Discrimination in America.”

A Pew Research poll in 2016 asked whether people had been unfairly stopped by police because of race or ethnicity in the previous 12 months and found that 18 percent of black people said yes. A 2015 CBS News/New York Times poll asked whether this had ever happened and found 41 percent of black people said yes.

Our poll differs from Pew in that we asked not only about a much longer period but also whether people had been unfairly stopped or treated because of their race or ethnicity. We differ from CBS in that we included the word “unfairly.” We also differ from both the Pew and CBS polls because we asked whether a person or a family member had had this experience, which gives us a better sense of the presence of these experiences in respondents’ life and surroundings.

The black American data from our poll, released Tuesday, were compiled from 802 black Americans as part of a large national representative probability survey of 3,453 adults from Jan. 26 to April 9. The margin of error for the full black American sample is plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

NPR will be reporting and releasing the results of the poll over the next several weeks for several groups, including Latinos, whites, Native Americans, Asian-Americans and LGBTQ adults.

Source: Poll: 6 In 10 Black Americans Say Police Unfairly Stopped Them Or A Relative : Code Switch : NPR

Killings of Blacks by Whites Are Far More Likely to Be Ruled ‘Justifiable’ – The New York Times

Impressive large scale study with disturbing conclusions:

When a white person kills a black man in America, the killer often faces no legal consequences.

In one in six of these killings, there is no criminal sanction, according to a new Marshall Project examination of 400,000 homicides committed by civilians between 1980 and 2014. That rate is far higher than ones for homicides involving other combinations of races.

In almost 17 percent of cases when a black man was killed by a non-Hispanic white civilian over the last three decades, the killing was categorized as justifiable, which is the term used when a police officer or a civilian kills someone committing a crime or in self-defense. Over all, the police classify fewer than 2 percent of homicides committed by civilians as justifiable.

The disparity persists across different cities, ages, weapons and relationships between killer and victim.

To understand the gaps, The Marshall Project obtained dozens of data sets from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and examined various combinations of killer and victim. Two types of “justifiable homicide” are noted: “felon killed by private citizen” or “felon killed by police officer.” (In a bit of circular logic, the person killed is presumptively classified as a felon, since the homicide could be justified only if a life was threatened, which is a crime.)

The data were processed to standardize key variables and exclude more than 200,000 cases that lacked essential information or were homicides by the police. The resulting data detail the circumstances of each death: any weapons used; information on the killer’s and victim’s race, age, ethnicity and sex; and how police investigators classify each type of killing (“brawl due to the influence of alcohol,” “sniper attack” or “lover’s triangle,” for example).

Little large-scale research has examined the role of race in “justifiable” homicides that do not involve the police. The data examined by The Marshall Project are more comprehensive and cover a longer time period than other research into the question, much of which has focused oncontroversial Stand Your Ground laws.

In the United States, the law of self-defense allows civilians to use deadly force in cases where they have a reasonable belief force is necessary to defend themselves or others. How that is construed varies from state to state, but the question often depends on what the killer believed when pulling the trigger.

“If there are factors — even if they’re stereotypes — that lead the defender to believe he’s in danger, that factors in, whether it’s a righteous cause or not,” said Mitch Vilos, a Utah defense lawyer, gun rights advocate and the author of “Self-Defense Laws of All 50 States.”

Self-defense decisions by regular people, much like those involving the police, are made quickly and with imperfect information. As a result, a homicide can be ruled self-defense when the killer faced no actual threat but had a reasonable belief he or she did.

That is where irrational fear can come into play. The police, prosecutors and juries may be apt to give killers the benefit of the doubt in situations when they were faced with someone who seemed “dangerous.”

“Tell me that it doesn’t factor in if the person is black when they’re approaching the suspect,” Mr. Vilos said. “It contributes to the decision to pull the trigger because of the fear associated with the stereotype.

“Right or wrong, that’s what’s happening, in my opinion.”

The vast majority of killings of whites are committed by other whites, contrary to some folk wisdom, and the overwhelming majority of killings of blacks is by other blacks.

The mystery of high unemployment rates for black Americans – The Economist

Further to earlier posts on blind cvs and discrimination:

Lower levels of education cannot account for the size of the racial gap. The real cause may be discrimination

Using American census data from 1976 to 2016, the authors built a statistical model using four factors they expected to account for variations in unemployment between racial minorities and whites: education, age, marital status and the state a person lives in. Among men, these variables collectively explained around three-quarters of the difference in joblessness rates between Hispanics and whites—but only about one-fifth of the gap between blacks and whites.

The authors put forward three possible reasons for this stubborn discrepancy. First, they suggest that nominal educational attainment could be a poor measure of labour-market skills: schools vary widely in quality, and those in majority-black districts tend to underperform on standardised tests. A second potential reason is mass incarceration. Around one in three black men spend time behind bars during their lives, which severely hampers their employment prospects upon release.

The third possible explanation is outright discrimination. One study in 2004 provided strong evidence that racism among employers is at least partly to blame. The authors responded to “help wanted” advertisements in newspapers in Boston and Chicago with fake resumes. They gave names common to black Americans to some fictitious applicants, and names common to whites to the rest. Every other detail was identical. Sure enough, the candidates with stereotypically white names received 50% more job interviews.

Source: The mystery of high unemployment rates for black Americans

White Economic Privilege Is Alive and Well – The New York Times

Good analysis:

Is the white working class losing economic ground because of policies intended to improve the lives of black people? Anxiety and resentment among some white voters about those policies certainly seemed to benefit Donald Trump’s campaign last year, with its populist, ethno-nationalist message.

The problem with this belief is that it is false. The income gap between black and white working-class Americans, like the gap between black and white Americans at every income level, remains every bit as extreme as it was five decades ago. (This is also true of the income gap between Hispanic and white Americans.)

In 2015 — the most recent year for which data are available — black households at the 20th and 40th percentiles of household income earned an average of 55 percent as much as white households at those same percentiles. This is exactly the same figure as in 1967.

Indeed, five decades of household income data reveal a yawning and uncannily consistent income gap between black and white Americans across the economic spectrum. Fifty years ago, black upper-class Americans had incomes about two-thirds those of white upper-class Americans, while the black middle class — those in the 60th percentile — earned about two-thirds as much as its white counterpart. Those ratios remain the same today.

The Income Gap That Won’t Close

These numbers should shock us. Consider that in the mid-1960s, Jim Crow practices were still being dismantled and affirmative action hardly existed. Yet a half-century of initiatives intended to combat the effects of centuries of virulent racism appear to have done nothing to ameliorate inequality between white and black America.

Conservatives like Charles Murray tend to blame either social welfare programs for sapping initiative and keeping black people poor, or black people themselves for being less intelligent than whites, or a “pathological” culture that now manifests itself in the white working class as well.

But the historical pervasiveness and contemporary persistence of racism in America offer more than adequate explanations for what should be considered a scandalous state of affairs in regard to race-based economic inequality.

Many black children, for example, attend schools that once again are as segregated as they were in the 1960s, and they are far more likely to become trapped in a prison-industrial complex that the scholar Michelle Alexander has called “the new Jim Crow.”

Research by the sociologist Devah Pager in 2009 also found that black job applicants for low-wage jobs receive callback interviews or job offers at half the rate of equally well-qualified white applicants and that black and Latino applicants with clean records “fare no better” than white applicants just released from prison.

It is important to remember the extent to which the civil rights movement led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was focused on economic injustice. Indeed, A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, who planned the March on Washington that culminated with Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, organized the event primarily to highlight and protest what they called “the economic subordination of the American Negro.”

And Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign, which he was organizing at the time of his murder, was an even more explicit argument that racial and economic justice are inextricably linked.

None of this is intended to minimize the legitimate anxiety felt by white families at a time when wages for low-wage workers have declined and middle-class incomes have stagnated, even as the economy has boomed and upper-class incomes have soared. Between 1980 and 2014, the post-tax income of the bottom 50 percent of the population grew by 21 percent, while that of the top .01 percent grew by 424 percent.

But over that same time, black working- and middle-class households have seen their incomes stagnate in exactly the same fashion as those of their white neighbors — and from a base that was and thus remains little more than half as large.

A genuine populist movement would unite working- and middle-class Americans of all backgrounds, rather than dividing them by exploiting false beliefs about the supposed loss of white economic privilege.

High Alzheimer’s Rates Among African-Americans May Be Tied To Poverty : NPR

Social factors matter:

Harsh life experiences appear to leave African-Americans vulnerable to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, researchers reported Sunday at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London.

Several teams presented evidence that poverty, disadvantage and stressful life events are strongly associated with cognitive problems in middle age and dementia later in life among African-Americans.

The findings could help explain why African-Americans are twice as likely as white Americans to develop dementia. And the research suggests genetic factors are not a major contributor.

“The increased risk seems to be a matter of experience rather than ancestry,” says Megan Zuelsdorff, a postdoctoral fellow in the Health Disparities Research Scholars Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Scientists have struggled to understand why African-Americans are so likely to develop dementia. They are more likely to have conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes, which can affect the brain. And previous research has found some evidence that African-Americans are more likely to carry genes that raise the risk.

But more recent studies suggest those explanations are incomplete, says Rachel Whitmer, an epidemiologist with Kaiser Permanente’s Division of Research in Northern California.

Whitmer has been involved in several studies that accounted for genetic and disease risks when comparing dementia in white and black Americans. “And we still saw these [racial] differences,” she says. “So there is still something there that we are trying to get at.”

The research presented at the Alzheimer’s conference suggests the missing factors involve adverse life experiences beginning in childhood. These experiences have already been linked to a range of diseases, including heart disease and cancer.

“We’re starting to understand how early life stress and early life deprivation can increase your risk of a number of health outcomes in late life,” Whitmer says. “And the latest thing is understanding how and why that might affect the brain.”

Whitmer was part of a team that presented results of a study of more than 6,000 Kaiser Permanente health plan members, most born in the 1920s.

The team wanted to know whether people who grew up in harsher conditions were more likely to develop dementia. So they looked at people who’d been born in states with high infant mortality rates — an indicator of social problems like poverty and limited access to medical care.

White people’s risk of dementia wasn’t affected by their place of birth. But black people were 40 percent more likely to develop dementia if they’d been born in a state with high infant mortality.

“These people left the state and subsequently moved to northern California, yet there was still this very robust association between being born in a state with high infant mortality and increased risk of dementia,” Whitmer says.

Scientists from the University of Wisconsin presented results of a study of the link between stressful life events and mental function in middle age. They studied more than 1,300 people in their 50s and 60s, including 82 African-Americans.

Stressful experiences included having a parent with a drinking problem, financial insecurity, legal issues, divorce, being fired from a job, and the death of a child.

African-Americans reported 60 percent more of these stressful events than white Americans. But that was only part of the difference, Zuelsdorff says.

“The impact of these stressful events was stronger in African-Americans than it was in non-Hispanic white participants,” she says.

The researchers discovered this by administering tests that reveal the brain’s speed and flexibility in doing certain tasks. These abilities normally decline with age. So the team looked for evidence that stressful events were accelerating this decline.

And they found that in white participants, each stressful event added about a year and a half to normal brain aging. But in African-Americans, each event aged the brain an extra four years.

The next challenge for researchers is to figure out precisely how adverse life experiences are changing the brain, Zuelsdorff says. That will mean looking at the effects of stress hormones and seeing whether stress leads to inflammation in the brain, something that has been associated with Alzheimer’s.

Source: High Alzheimer’s Rates Among African-Americans May Be Tied To Poverty : Shots – Health News : NPR