Of Platitudes Facile and Persistent: Reflections on the Predictability of a Right Wing Robot

Sometimes one has to wonder: are conservatives really that obtuse, or do they deliberately distort facts and data for political effect?

Either way, let there be no mistake, Crystal Wright, who blogs under the moniker “Conservative Black Chick,” is possibly the most unadulterated prototype of a reality-challenged right-wing zombie ever to take up bandwidth, and that is no small accomplishment. Her almost complete separation from that sometimes useful commodity known as “evidence in support of one’s argument” is no doubt why she has been such a regular on FOX News, where asininity is churned out like buttermilk for those all too happy to ingest it, and it probably explains why she isn’t much used to having her foolishness pointed out. After all, in the echo chamber that is FOX, misunderstanding or misinterpreting things like statistics, or the difference between, say, weather on the one hand and climate on the other, is pretty much normative. Indeed, it’s what pays the bills.

But on Friday night on CNN (see the full video below this essay), I had the honor of confronting Ms. Wright with facts, a happy circumstance about which she was none too pleased, and in response to which she came entirely unglued, to the point where she couldn’t even get my name right, even after being corrected on that rather simple detail multiple times. Needless to say, if you can’t get the name of the person you’re debating right, you aren’t likely to do too well with the facts being discussed.

cnn panel

The segment we were on together — along with Natalie Jackson, who is one of the attorneys for the family of Trayvon Martin* — was to discuss the admission by Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, that he is prejudiced, and crosses the street out of fear when he sees a young black kid in a hoodie, as with a white skinhead covered in tattoos. Cuban’s comments — part of the discussion sparked by the bigoted remarks of his fellow owner, Donald Sterling — were problematic, as Jackson pointed out, because they implicitly equated a black kid in a hoodie (like Martin for instance), with someone who belongs to a violent hate group. So too, Cuban’s statement amounted to saying that a black kid in a hoodie (like Trayvon) is rationally feared, thereby reinforcing the prejudice that ultimately brought about the confrontation between Martin and George Zimmerman, and without which race-based suspicion, Martin would still be alive. The clumsiness of the remarks was unfortunate, because the underlying point — that we all have biases, learned over many years, and which we need to work on challenging — is a valid one.

But naturally, when race is the issue, and a professional conservative is asked their opinion, it isn’t enough to simply say that Cuban’s remarks were an unfortunate or unwieldy way of making a larger and valid observation. No, it is axiomatic that right-wingers will virtually always seek to rationalize prejudice against black people whenever given the opportunity. And so Wright’s rejoinder was as predictable as it was tragic.

First, she offered a standard soliloquy on the evils of hip-hop culture and the hoodies associated with it (check!), then a line or two about the criminality of young black men (double-check!) and finished with the claim that although people have a right to wear whatever they like, she (and others) have the right to fear them and cross the street to avoid them, without being made to feel like racists for doing so (triple-damn-check!). In other words, black folks are basically dysfunctional and dangerous (a view that conservatives somehow fail to recognize as inherently racist), and white people like Mark Cuban are completely justified in fearing them.

When it was my turn, I pointed out that just because one has a right to be biased against people doesn’t mean it’s right to be biased, or that having expressed a bias or acted on that bias, one should be immune to criticism for it. And so, in the instant case, the problem with Mark Cuban’s comment was that he didn’t sufficiently interrogate the rationality of his expressed biases. As I noted, it actually is not rational for white people like Mark Cuban to fear black males, in hoodies or not. Why? Because, as I have explained by examining the data closely in previous essays, especially this one from last year, only a very small percentage — around 2 percent — of black males will commit a violent crime of any kind in a given year, and fewer than 1 percent will violently victimize a white person annually. In other words, to believe that the black kid in the hoodie is going to victimize you is a belief that is going to be wrong almost every time. And in fact, as I noted, whites like Cuban and myself are about 4-5 times more likely to be victimized by another white person than by a black person: this, also noted in the Justice Department’s statistical tables on violent crime victimization, referenced in the above and previous essay.

When asked to respond, Wright went into entirely predictable deflection mode, offering the statistic that black males are about 7 times as likely as white males to commit homicide, as justification for fear of black men, presumably on the part of folks like Mark Cuban. Although basically accurate (actually, the ratio is more like 7.6 to 1, as I’ll show below), her recitation of this number as if it were some kind of argumentative trump, reminded me of nothing so much as Inigo Montoya’s line in The Princess Bride, which I shall now paraphrase:

“You keep using that statistic. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Indeed, it does not. After all, just because the homicide rate is higher among blacks than whites does not mean it is rational to fear every black male you see, nor even any particular black male you see, for the following reasons.

1. Even though the black male homicide rate is much higher than its white counterpart, it is still the case that only a very small percentage of black males will commit a murder in any given year. In 2010, for instance — the last year for which we have comprehensive data — there were 5,705 black males who killed someone, in cases where the race of the perpetrator was known, out of a black male population that year of over 20 million.** That means that in a given year, less than 3 one-hundredths of one percent of black males will commit murder. So the question of whether someone should fear being killed by a black person is one best answered by reference to that statistic, which better signifies the real likelihood of being such a victim.

Even if we were to estimate the number of black males among the roughly 4,251 murderers whose race was unknown to authorities that year, and add them to the totals (likely a little less than half of those murderers, as with the black and male percentage of murderers whose race was known), this would still only mean that in 2010, there were perhaps around 7700 black male killers.*** Out of a population of 20 million black males that year, this would still represent less than 4 one-hundredths of one percent of black males who will commit murder in a given year.

2. Even those numbers for black homicide cannot reasonably explain white fear, since only a small percentage of that already small percentage will involve murders with black perps and white victims, and especially white strangers encountered on the street, as with Mark Cuban’s scenario. In 2010, for instance, there were 214 white strangers killed by 305 black males in the entire United States. That is 214 too many of course, but of the roughly 200 million non-Hispanic whites in the population that year, this represented roughly 1 ten-thousandth of one percent of whites who were victimized in this fashion by a black person. This means that a white person’s odds of being murdered by a black male stranger is about one in a million. So for Mark Cuban’s fear to be rational — or for any white person’s — we would have to assume that it was rational for white people to fear a crime that will only happen to 1 in a million of us, and will be committed by only 1.5 one-thousandth of one percent of black males, which is about 1 in every 75,000 black males in the country.

3. The fact that black males commit criminal homicide at a rate that is 7.6 times higher than that of white males is not enough to justify fear of blacks because 7.6 times a ridiculously small number is still a ridiculously small number. So, just to make it clear: The black male homicide offending rate in 2010 was at most (assuming the addition of those from the “race unknown” category who were likely black), 38 per 100,000 black males (7,700 black male murderers divided by the roughly 20 million black males in the population) Yes, this is 7.6 times the maximum white male rate of 5 per 100,000 (about 5,000 white male murderers as a share of roughly 100 million non-Hispanic white men, once the likely white portion of “race unknown” offenders is added in), but in neither case does the number rise to the level that should justify random terror at the sight of a black male walking down the street.

4. And for whites this is especially true because however much black males may have a higher rate of homicide offending, whites as victims are far more likely to be murdered by another white male than by a black male. In 2010, overall there were 685 whites (men and women combined) murdered by black males, but there were 2,924 whites murdered by white men that year: a number that is more than 4 times larger.

So when it comes to Cuban’s fears, if those fears are of a violent, homicidal attack, the fears are plainly absurd. And as I pointed out above, even if we’re looking at overall violent crime (including assault or robbery, for instance), it is still a very tiny share of black males who commit such crimes, especially against white strangers, and as such, his fear would be irrational, even if only about being mugged.

To this argument (which obviously I had to make in truncated form and to which Wright had no reply), “Conservative Black Chick” pivoted again, to the favorite meme of right-wing commentators; namely, the tried and true, “black babies are being born out of wedlock” argument. Ah yes, those irresponsible black baby daddies who impregnate black women and then run out on their kids. This, Crystal implied, is why black male crime is so high, and why it’s rational for whites to fear black males in hoodies. But this is an argument so stupefying for its sheer mendacity as to boggle the rational mind. Which is no doubt why it’s Bill O’Reilly’s favorite argument — well, next to the one where he blames Beyonce and Jay-Z for all the problems of the black community — and is likely why Ms. Wright finds it so inspiring, having clearly studied the craft of conservative scapegoating well.

Don’t get me wrong: Wright was correct when she noted that 72 percent of births in the black community at present are out-of-wedlock. And yes, I am fully aware that this is double the percentage of black births that were out-of-wedlock in the 1970s. But there’s a problem — and it is not a minor one — with Wright linking that fact to crime rates and suggesting that there is some kind of bright line correlation between the two subjects. As I pointed out in another essay last year (after examining data from 1978 and 2008), during the very same period that the share of black births that are out-of-wedlock was increasing by nearly 100 percent, the black violent crime rate was plummeting by roughly half! In other words, one trend was going up while the other was coming down, which means the correlation between the two factors is negative not positive. Now obviously I would never argue that black crime dropped because the share of out-of-wedlock births had risen. But frankly, the data would more justify that obviously absurd conclusion than the completely concocted one floated by Crystal Wright.

Oh, and not to put too fine a point on it, but ya know what else was getting bigger at the same time black crime rates were being cut in half? Yeah, well, that would be hip-hop, that other supposed cultural poison blamed by the right for all the problems of the world. As I noted and demonstrated in the essay mentioned above from last year, back in 1978, before the emergence of a broad-based hip-hop culture with national traction, there were nearly 1.5 million violent crimes committed by blacks, but by 2008, long after hip-hop had become the dominant musical and artistic culture in the U.S., that number had fallen to 1.3 million. So despite the explosion of this supposedly destructive influence, and despite an increase in the black population of about 11 million people over the thirty year period, there were roughly 200,000 fewer violent crimes committed by blacks in 2008 than there were in 1978: a drop of about 14 percent, numerically, and a massive drop in the violent crime offending rate, from 75.3 violent offenses per 1000 black people in 1978 to 41.7 per 1000 by 2008: a decline of 45 percent in the rate at which blacks commit violent crimes.

As I was trying to explain the fallacies in her use of data, Wright again inserted a non-sequitur, asking me “who’s in our prisons?” and suggesting that I should check the stats on who’s in federal prison, presumably to again demonstrate that whites have every right to fear black people. That she apparently doesn’t understand that most federal prisoners are not incarcerated for violent offenses (like the ones we’d been talking about) — indeed only 2 percent are violent offenders — and that virtually none are there for murder, as most all murders are state level offenses, was fascinating. That she was once again missing the point I had been making — and the only one relevant to the discussion of Mark Cuban’s fears, which was that very few blacks, be they incarcerated or not, had or will have white victims like Mark Cuban — was maddening. It was like I was speaking to a literal wall. Which is to say that Crystal Wright should perhaps consider changing her nickname to “Conservative Black Brick.” After all, given the way she spews data out of context and without even the faintest grasp on what that data does and does not indicate, she is clearly and quickly becoming just another brick in the right-wing wall of anti-intellectual shame.


*On the show Friday night, and because I could not see the video as we spoke, but only had an audio feed (and not a great one at that), I mistook a brief and supportive interjection from Natalie Jackson as a challenge from Ms. Wright, and replied tersely, “let me finish.” I apologize for being rude to Ms. Jackson, as I did not know it was her speaking. Ms. Wright, on the other hand, having offered bogus data interrupted repeatedly when I tried to note how and why it was bogus and would not let me finish my point. For my terse replies to her, I offer no apology whatsoever.

**The most recent data I could locate for the numbers of black males in the population was from 2009 and is located here. Note, as of 2009, there were roughly 19.99 million males classified as black, either alone, or in combination with other ethnicity. Obviously by 2010 — the year I was using for the homicide data — those numbers would have bumped above 20 million, thus the estimate I am using here.

*** The large and adjustable dataset on murder compiled by the Wall Street Journal is the one I used for these calculations. To estimate the numbers of “race unknown” killers who were likely black, white, etc. I simply assumed that the share of that group that would match each racial category is likely similar to the percentages of each racial group in the category of murderers whose race was known (a reasonable guess it seems). I then did multiple calculations to arrive at the numbers presented here, all of which one can easily perform using the tables linked in the article by adjusting the different variables. If anyone would like a detailed breakdown of my calculations I’ll be happy to provide them, via e-mail at timjwise@mac.com.

Here is the full video of the discussion on CNN, via Mediaite.

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