Ben Shapiro came to town. I got a friend who posts some of his stuff, so I know him to be a smart, quick-witted, principle-driven self-described conservative. He didn’t support or vote for Trump and left Breitbart as it became a tool of the alt-right, which he said suffers from identity politics like the left does; the alt-right just identifies with the social group of white supremacists.
The Q&A line ran out of time for me, but I would’ve brought up the genetics of X/Y (discussed below) and also asked that while the 1st Amendment protects all speech except “fighting words”, as a society is that legal standard the only standard we should apply when deciding what makes a healthy community for all of us? I believe this was the protester’s message tonight when saying, “This is our campus.” It belongs to straight whites and queer blacks and everyone in between. To make it the best it can be, we have to step outside our personal viewpoints since we don’t all have the same needs. Do ADA ramps and wheelchair slots in lecture halls and stadiums impair your freedom (Shapiro’s anathema)? Maybe a little, but that’s a small cost to pay for making society as a whole better. And our rights never existed in a vacuum in the first place: they only extend until they impinge on someone else’s rights, and one of the main jobs of government is to arbitrate when rights conflict. Even vaunted free speech that was on the pedestal tonight has exceptions like child pornography.
Back to Shapiro. As he uses actual facts to make his points, I have more respect for him than the regurgitating talking heads like Tomi Lahren and most of Fox News. But I think he cherry picks facts to back himself up.
He stated that crack is punished more severely than powder cocaine because it is more addictive. This is not a fact but an unchecked claim made by an addiction treatment entrepreneur in a Newsweek interview (see: Myth #2). The Crack Scare of the ’80s after a few celebrity deaths is a well-studied media phenomenon (the bottom of this page shows how Newseek manipulated the data to generate an alarming-looking graph). Not surprisingly, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 punished possessing 500 grams of powder at the same level as possessing 5g of crack. Reform was first called for in 1995 by the U.S. Sentencing Commission as part of the massive Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, then again in 1997 and 2002. (A 2010 bill did pass, reducing the disparity from 100:1 to 18:1.) In 1997 a study done by Reinarman, reported in Crack in America, found no difference in usage over time. The National Survey by the US Substance Abuse Administration found that of everyone who tried crack and powder in their lifetime, the percent of current users (used in last 30 days) is equivalent, 5.9% for both in 2004, and 4.4% and 4.8% respectively in 2015. Shapiro added that the original sentencing disparity wasn’t racist because black legislators were involved. A better gauge of racism is the outcome, which was that a disproportionate number of black people went to jail for a disproportionate amount of time. The well-meaning intent of black leaders to rid their neighborhoods of an over-hyped demon had a racist effect. To use Shapiro’s words, the facts don’t care about your feelings.
Another example: in pointing out that having two parents instead of one statistically gives a child a better chance at success, he said that white single mothers are more often poor than two-parent black families, and uses this as an example that white privilege doesn’t exist. (It’s part of his misleading characterization that privilege has made life comfy for white people, whereas tons of poor and middle class white people definitely struggled at some point. More accurately, privilege has only made it less crappy.) Shapiro selects this datum, but data about wealth inequality are ignored, such as Pew Research numbers (skip down to “economic realities of black and white households”) based on US Census Bureau data from 2014 showing “median household income for whites was $71,300 compared to$43,300 for blacks. But for college-educated whites, the median household income was $106,600, significantly higher than the $82,300 for households headed by college-educated blacks”. Since Ben knows two-parent homes are better, then let’s compare apples to apples. Median single mother wealth by race in 2007: white: $45,400; Hispanic: $120; black: $100. That’s pretty stark, no?
Let’s ask why that is. According to Ben’s lecture, if we follow 3 rules anyone can break out of poverty:
- Graduate high school
- Get a job
- Get married before having a kid
Again, statistically, he’s right. These things do correlate with wealth. However, his reason for disparities in following these rules: values and individual decisions. This is the part of the racial disparity arguments that always get me: all of the conservative viewpoints I’ve read and seen from National Review to (old) Breitbart to Fox News put the onus 100% on individual decision-making and values. Nothing else is allowed to factor into this disparity’s cause. And the view on the left is characterized as 100% of the fault is on the system. Conveniently polarizing, no? Most of the left-leaning stuff I’ve come across from Vox, Huff Post, The Atlantic, and the NYT is usually asking to split that 100% and say there are two things responsible: personal decisions do matter, but so do systemic pressures.
What do I mean by systemic?
We just talked about wealth, and we found that single mothers of color have shockingly little of it. Shapiro says we can’t blame the past for the present. He says no one is asking for redress from the Holocaust (though maybe that’s cuz reparations already happened?), although, as he is well aware from Twitter trolls, he and we are still dealing with anti-Semitism in this country, both the overt explicit language on Twitter and the more subtle prejudices. These things are related, the past and the present. It’s not overnight you convince an entire country that an entire minority is the problem and build infrastructure for the solution. That prejudice was long in labor, and dies longer.
Similarly, as soldiers returned from WWII, they had the GI Bill to get them educated and to purchase homes. There were about 70,000 black veterans in 1947, but of the first 67,000 mortgages in New York and northern New Jersey less than 100 were to non-whites. In Mississippi, by October 1946 5,600 soldiers had been placed into non-farm jobs. Eighty-six percent of the skilled jobs went to whites and 92% of the unskilled jobs went to blacks. (Source)
It’s also interesting to note where people of color were often allowed to get loans to buy houses. A little history on redlining, which was a federally-endorsed practice and persisted explicitly at least until the mid-1980s (an investigation won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize) if not longer, also contributes to the wealth gap. Coates has a great piece in The Atlantic that gives you both the data and the story of people who went through this in Chicago. Add in something like Milwaukee’s 1955 city limits freeze to partition property taxes and then ordinances requiring large land parcels and house square footage to make sure only rich people can move in. Since America insanely funds schools by property taxes, now we have good schools in the suburbs and crap ones in the city. Having a better school because of where you were born is privilege.
What else can undermine Shapiro’s 3-step plan to wealth of graduate high school, get a job, get married before kids? The poorer areas created by the practices above have poorer infrastructure, including health care, so it’s harder to get healthcare and when you do, it’s not as good. So maybe you miss school more often cuz you’re sick, or your single parent is sick, or your sibling is sick and your parent(s) work(s) and can’t afford child care so you stay home. Or you get suspended more often cuz teachers expect you to act up literally because you’re black. Turns out you find problems where you look for them. Sound familiar, policing?
Now you’ve graduated from a crappy high school, which means your college and job prospects are burgeoning, right? Maybe you have a black-sounding name, which means potential employers call me back 33% less often than white names with the same qualifications. Tell me again how this racism stuff is all in the past.
(Shapiro also hammered on the lack of marriage being the problem, but there is evidence that marriage isn’t the answer to poverty.)
I think I’ve showed how non-individual factors can contribute to wealth. Let’s switch gears to transgender issues now. Here’s a teaser for Pt 2:
Forcing people to the bathroom of their birth certificate, not the other way around, results in dissonance. His birth certificate says “female”:
(For more examples, check out #plettputmehere.)
Yet the benefit is huge: trans people face tons of physical assault and harassment, and the bathroom where they blend in mitigates that. And, how does it really affect you, cis-gender person? Shapiro doesn’t want to meddle with individual freedoms, and I fail to see how this impairs someone else’s freedom significantly. But Shapiro is willing to tell a trans person they don’t have the personal freedom to identify as a different gender?
Even if it did impair, remember the protester saying, “This is our campus.” I believe the meaning is that we share it. It belongs to Shapiro adherents. It belongs to the queer community. Society is about coexisting. As I left this evening, I did catch one conversation amongst people exiting where one expressed support for and reliance on safe spaces, and asked friends what they liked about Shapiro’s dismantling of them since they were valuable. That’s the start on the road to empathy. That’s the conversation we all need so we can build a place we all want to live in. Contact me if you want to have it.