Recent Race Stories

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There is always the stray race story, but lately it seems as if there have been far more than usual.

NPR had a story called "The Multiracial Identity" that I still haven't had a chance to listen to, and I'm not sure if I'll have any thoughts on it when I do, but I thought I'd link to Sam's post on it for now.

Someone is offering evidence for racial bias among NBA refs (NYT registration or Bugmenot required). They found much higher calls for black players when there are more white refs and somewhat higher for white players when there are more black refs. I'll hold my judgment until the study can be subjected to peer review. I haven't had a chance to look at it, but the first thing I'd want to rule out is whether black players are more likely to foul more often than white players. This gap, if it turns out to be real, might be partially explained by black refs going too easy on black players as much as it could be white refs being too hard on black players, but I wouldn't be surprised if there's some unconscious bias from residual racism also or instead.

There's also Lee Epstein's post at Balkinization, which says that panels of judges are more likely to be swayed toward a black plaintiff suing for discrimination if there's a black judge on the panel (and the same is true of women with women judges on the panel). As I commented there, the question is whether the presence of a woman or black makes other judges more likely to see discrimination that is present or whether it makes them more likely to find discrimination that isn't present. I suppose it's possible that both are true. I can't see how the study itself shows that having more women and minority judges improves things, though. You need to have a prior judgment about whether the finding of discrimination in the particular cases is the correct judgment if you're going to see this as good, bad, or neutral (or mixed). I'm not sure you can get an independent judgment on that.

Then there's this weird story, which says that interracial couples spend more time and resources with/on their kids than monoracial couples, except if the father is black and the mother white, and then it's less than monoracial couples. I have no idea what might explain any of that.

Finally, everyone's been making a big deal about a new study that shows that black students at elite colleges and universities are overwhelmingly more likely to be non-citizens, immigrants, or children of immigrants than descendants of slaves in the U.S. Why is this surprising? If you'd asked me ahead of time which one I would have expected to occupy more slots in the top schools, I would have without hesitation said the immigrants and children of immigrants. This isn't just from experience at an Ivy League institution (whose black community did seem to me to be over-represented by immigrants and children of immigrants in terms of percentages) but because scholars have long known this. Black conservatives and other opponents of affirmative action (or those who seek affirmative action reform) have been using this fact for quite a while as a piece of evidence in their argument against affirmative action policies as they currently stand. Many people, both in major news media and in race-specific specialty blogs, are reporting this study as major and surprising news. I think this raises some very interesting issues that I won't get into at the moment, but I'll say one thing. That people are surprised by this confirms my suspicion that most people don't have much of a clue what the arguments against affirmative action really are. If you knew them then you'd probably be aware of this fact. Maybe I'll have to get back to my affirmative action series to do my part to remedy that.

2 Comments

Well, as far as the NBA study goes, the first thing i can tell you is that the methodology is a little suspect: because they could only identify the three-man refereeing crews from each game, there's no way to know which referee made which call. Now granted, on a night where the entire crew is white, it's easy, but given that there is a fairly substantial number of Black refs in the league, extrapolating results from it could be quite difficult. Then there's the actual percentage of difference. Between 2.5-4.5% more likely to call a foul. However, given the imprecise nature of foul-calling in the first place, I don't even think the study was worth the effort.

A better research question, if they were going to study race and fouls in the NBA, would have been to look at technical fouls, because they're entirely subjective and would probably do a better job of getting at whatever issue of workplace discrimination that the authors were looking for.

Wow! That margin of error is really tiny. What's the margin of error? I'd be surprised if it's not in it. It's irresponsible for journalists even to draw attention to this unless they're going to mention how small that is.

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