Our American Discourse, Ep. 29: Speaking Your Truth — How It’s Possible to Talk About and Improve Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion sound like universally accepted ideas, but when we try to talk about how we fall short of them and how we can improve, they become two of the most controversial political sparks in the fire that rages around our American discourse. Many people believe they can’t speak the truth in their hearts, and so they see no path forward. At the USC Price School, we have been challenging this assumption and lifting up these voices to unfurl a path that had been blocked until only recently.

In this episode, LaVonna B. Lewis tells the story of this new effort, known as the Initiative on Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Justice, and she implores us to follow the Price School’s lead in our everyday lives.

Continue reading “Our American Discourse, Ep. 29: Speaking Your Truth — How It’s Possible to Talk About and Improve Diversity and Inclusion”

Our American Discourse, Ep. 15: Sports and Racial Justice in America

To some, it represents the highest ideals of our society. To others, it is a symbol of unfulfilled potential at best, outright oppression at worst. Are we referring to the American flag? Or to American sports? This debate is about more than one athlete or one gesture. It is about an institution, a system of competition, dominance, and deeply ingrained beliefs. In this episode, we examine this balance of power—and the protestors who are trying to change it.

In front of a live audience at USC, Prof. Jody David Armour interviews ESPN writer Jason Reid about Colin Kaepernick, political activism, and being black in America.

Continue reading “Our American Discourse, Ep. 15: Sports and Racial Justice in America”

Letter to a Trump Supporter #9: Donald Trump’s Character

This is the ninth and last in my series of “Letters to a Trump Supporter,” from correspondence with a family friend who supports Mr. Trump.

Yesterday, I addressed Hillary Clinton’s character. Today, I will address Donald Trump’s.

It’s hard to know where to begin. I have received so many defenses of Mr. Trump’s character, and not one of them makes a bit of sense.

Below is a compilation of my responses.

~~~~~~~~~~

Dear Mr. ——,

There are so many negative stories about Donald Trump that it’s mind-boggling how such a person could be allowed to reach a position of importance in our society. Here are just a few of these stories:

Importantly, we knew all of these horrible things long before over a dozen women accused him of sexual assault and rape.

And, contrary to what Trump supporters have told me, this isn’t just about his private morality. It’s about his public morality. He doesn’t just say vulgar things behind the scenes. He says them on the national stage, and he doesn’t regret it. He insults millions of Americans everyday. He’s not fit to be the leader of our people, and we’ve known it from the very beginning. Hillary Clinton would never, ever have implied that most Mexican immigrants were rapists and murderers. Donald Trump did it on day one of his campaign. That’s the difference.

Consider the following public utterances:

  1. He called one woman “a disgusting person inside and out” and a “slob” with a “fat, ugly face,” and he called her “a big, fat pig” and a “disgusting pig.”
  2. He called another woman “a dog.”
  3. He said another woman had the “face of a dog.”
  4. On national television, he told a woman it would be a “pretty picture” to see her on her knees.
  5. He called another woman “grotesque.”
  6. He said it was “disgusting” that a mother had to breastfeed her child.
  7. He said, referring to one specific woman, that he likes “girls that are 5-foot-1” because they “come up to you know where.”
  8. He said one woman’s breasts looked “like two lightbulbs coming out of her body.”
  9. He said it doesn’t matter “if a girl can play a violin like the greatest violinist in the world. You want to know what does she look like.”
  10. And of course, there was the moment when he implied, with absolutely zero evidence, that Ted Cruz’s wife was cheating on him.

Now, the thing I have trouble understanding is why Trump supporters are more appalled by anything Hillary Clinton has said than they are by these comments. More specifically, should you and I allow Donald Trump to talk to women that way? Should we support him calling our mothers and daughters and wives and girlfriends slobs and pigs and dogs and fat and disgusting?

What would you do if a man said that to your mother? What if he said it to your wife?

You wouldn’t want that man to be your friend. That’s for damn sure. And you wouldn’t want him to be president either.

But that doesn’t seem to matter. Because you think the country is falling apart, and he’s the only one who can save us. “It’s Trump, or it’s the end of America.“ That’s what you’ve told me.

Well, I’m not sure what America you’re living in. Because it doesn’t sound anything like the America I know.

The America I know has the highest economic output of any country in the world, 70 percent more than the next largest economy.

The America I know has over 40 percent of the world’s wealth, four times the next richest country.

The America I know has outpaced the rest of the developed world in economic growth and job growth since Barack Obama took office in the depths of the Great Recession.

The America I know has historically low inflationlow unemployment, and stable growth.

The America I know has cut violent crime and murder rates in half since the early 1990s.

The America I know has the world’s largest military, equivalent to the next seven largest countries combined.

The America I know is widely viewed more positively overseas than it was eight years ago.

The America I know exists in a world where violence has been declining dramatically for centuries.

The America I know is doing so well that over half of its citizens approve of their current president’s job performance, higher than Ronald Reagan’s approval at the end of his presidency.

The bottom line is that we live in the safest, richest, most powerful country in the history of the world. It would be unfathomably irresponsible to overthrow a system that has worked so well for so many for so long.

What should concern you is the fact that Trump supporters are now saying that they’re going to intimidate voters the way white Americans used to intimidate black voters in the South during the Jim Crow era. They’re saying they’re going to start a violent revolution.

They’re calling for Hillary Clinton to be murdered.

This is literally what they’ve been saying at Trump rallies.

And that’s because they’ve been told, by Donald Trump, that minority voters are “rigging the election” (which is basically impossible, by the way).

This is dangerous.

This is anti-democratic.

This is un-American.

And it should scare us all that Mr. Trump is threatening our lives with this rhetoric.

Donald Trump is playing a word association game designed to make you scared and angry, and he’s hoping you won’t notice that he’s completely full of crap. He regularly changes his policy positions, even on the issues that seem to be most important to him. Here’s a list to give you a sense of how often he goes back on his word.

Even by the typical standards of American politics, this is extreme. I don’t know of any politician who changes their policy positions this often. It’s literally impossible to know what, if anything, Donald Trump actually believes.

But when you read all those stories about his character and his behavior, it makes complete sense that he doesn’t have any policy positions that he really believes in. After all, he doesn’t actually know much about public policy, and he doesn’t seem to care about anything but his own ego. He just says whatever gets him attention.

As someone who’s dedicated his career to public policy, I am continually astonished that voters are willing to elect people with little, if any, understanding of public policy. We wouldn’t want a brain surgeon operating on us if they don’t know anything about medicine, and we shouldn’t elect a policymaker who doesn’t know anything about public policy.

Our government is full of smart, kind, brave men and women who have dedicated their lives to making this country a better place, and I am tired of ignorant malcontents like Donald Trump treating them with such petty, unsubstantiated, arrogant disrespect.

We have real problems in this country, and Donald Trump hasn’t proposed a workable solution to any of them. Hillary Clinton has offered long, detailed, well-researched, carefully-considered plans to address the challenges we face, and Donald Trump has replied with mocking, belittling, rambling, and zero concrete, politically feasible ideas.

If you were an investor and you were considering their “business plans” side-by-side, there wouldn’t even be a contest. As a businessman, you know that you would never bet on someone with no experience and no plan. As a voter, I beg you to apply the same standard.

Best regards,
Anthony

Letter to a Trump Supporter #7: Black Lives Matter

This is the seventh in my series of “Letters to a Trump Supporter,” from correspondence with a family friend who supports Mr. Trump.

Continuing our conversation about race, he sent me a video about Black Lives Matter. Again, I have to emphasize strenuously: This video will be extremely offensive to many of you. Please use your discretion in choosing whether to watch it.

Below is my response.

~~~~~~~~~~

Dear Mr. ——,

Thanks for passing along this video. It’s really interesting to see how much disinformation is out there about Black Lives Matter.

I debunked most of these claims in my last letter. You probably remember, for example, that poor urban whites are more likely to commit violent crimes than poor urban blacks and that the black community is more concerned about black-on-black crime than about unjust policing. So, the claim that blacks are to blame for a homicide “epidemic” is obviously untrue, and it’s equally false that the black community is ignoring the problem.

This video adds a new comparison: whether cops are more likely to use force on blacks, and if so, why.

The man in the video alleges that blacks are more violent, so it’s reasonable for cops to use force on them more often. The funny thing is, he never actually shows any evidence that cops use force because the suspect is more violent.

But we know that’s not the case.

Roland Fryer, one of the most celebrated economists in the world, published research a couple months ago showing that police officers were significantly more likely to use force on black suspects — by pushing them into walls, handcuffing them when they weren’t arresting them, drawing their weapons, pushing them to the ground, pointing a gun at them, and using pepper spray and batons on them — even if they displayed the exact same behavior as white suspects.

I’m honestly shocked that anyone would even question the notion that police officers are excessively violent toward black suspects. We all saw the videos on the news where cops clearly killed unarmed black victims. We watched them die before our eyes, and we saw that they did nothing to deserve that death. How can anyone pretend that didn’t happen?

Why would anyone not be concerned about that kind of behavior, especially when it’s repeated over and over and over?

Those videos alone are good reason for Black Lives Matter to protest. It’s pretty silly for him to claim that Democrats “need” Black Lives Matter to get elected, since Black Lives Matter is only a couple years old and Democrats have been getting elected for decades.

And it is absolutely one of the most disgusting, unconscionable things I’ve ever heard when he refers to blacks as “slaves on their vote plantation.” This man is degrading millions of human beings. He has stripped them of their dignity and their autonomy, and he has blatantly suggested that black lives don’t matter — that those people deserved to die — and that is exactly where the slogan “Black Lives Matter” came from.

This video is a perfect example of what’s wrong in America today that they are protesting. So I thank you for sending it as a reminder of that fact.

Finally, he has spent the entire video assuming that Black Lives Matter is opposed to the police. It becomes very clear at the end when he alleges that they want to remove cops from their communities. On the contrary, black communities feel that police officers have abandoned their neighborhoods; hence, the high rate of black-on-black crime and their distrust of the police. It makes perfect sense if you actually ask anyone what it’s like to live in these neighborhoods.

Obviously, he has never spoken to anyone in the Black Lives Matter movement. That’s how racism works. The racists don’t ask the victims how they really think. They don’t actually care. They have an unshakeable worldview that their victims are wrong and deserve to be oppressed.

But I understand that you really want to know what Black Lives Matter advocates want, since you sent me this video. I will tell you. They have released an entire list of solutions that you can read at this website. They include:

  1. Ending profiling and stop-and-frisks;
  2. Decriminalizing marijuana possession, loitering, and jaywalking;
  3. Creating mental health response teams that have proven to resolve many situations better than police;
  4. Disciplining officers who use excessive force;
  5. Allowing the community to give input into police policy;
  6. Establishing stricter procedures for allowable use of force;
  7. Recruiting more police officers of color;
  8. Requiring body cameras; and
  9. Ending “for-profit” policing that encourages police to take resources out of low-income communities.

These are very reasonable, centrist proposals. The only way to make Black Lives Matter sound extreme is to completely misrepresent what they say and what they believe. That is exactly what this video has done. I hope these facts help you understand the movement better, and I hope you will consider joining me in supporting them in their worthwhile efforts to make our country safer and more just.

Best regards,
Anthony

Letter to a Trump Supporter #6: Black Homicides

This is the sixth in my series of “Letters to a Trump Supporter,” from correspondence with a family friend who supports Mr. Trump.

Continuing our conversation about race, he sent me a video about violent crimes committed by black Americans. I cannot stress this enough: This video will be extremely offensive to many of you. Please use your discretion in choosing whether to watch it.

Below is my response.

~~~~~~~~~~

Dear Mr. ——,

As always, you send thought-provoking stuff. But I’m astonished that the guy in the video doesn’t ask the obvious question: Why are so many homicides committed by black Americans? There are really only two logical possibilities: Either they are innately more homicidal, or something has happened to them to put them in such a position.

The first possibility is, by definition, racism. It assumes that blacks are biologically different. Of course, any decent scientist can tell you that that’s not true, as can anyone who spends any time with black people.

The second possibility is supported by ample evidence. Blacks have faced systemic discrimination throughout American history, forcing them to live disproportionately in areas of concentrated poverty, where people are most likely to commit crimes. One of my colleagues at USC recently wrote a couple excellent blog posts on this history:

Somehow, the man in the video thinks “white liberals” use these facts as an excuse for crime. I’ve never heard any “white liberal” say such a thing. Everyone is in favor of prosecuting violent crimes. But it’s pretty simple logic that you can only prevent crimes if you understand why they’re happening. And blaming it on a person’s race is both incorrect and immoral.

The deeper problem with the argument in this video is that it reinforces the very discriminatory behavior that caused the problem in the first place! If everyone acts the way this man is telling them to — calling black people “savages” or worse, avoiding them when they walk down the street, generally thinking of them as a threat — then good, decent, law-abiding black Americans will continue to be unable to get jobs, homes, mortgages, education, or anything else of any value in society.

This is an unjust way to treat any person who hasn’t done anything wrong, and it’s an irrational way to go through life.

Every year, the number of whites killed by blacks is one-tenth the number of whites killed by other whites. The vast majority of black people, just like the vast majority of white people, pose no threat to you or me. It would be ridiculous for us to assume otherwise. Statistically, “you have more reason to be afraid of your own swimming pool than any young black man you see in a hoodie.”

And it’s completely insane to compare a black person to a wild animal, as the man in the video does. You and I cannot fathom how injurious such a comparison is to a black person (although, as empathetic human beings, we certainly should try). I have black friends who have to hear such comparisons all the time, and it makes them think that the world doesn’t understand them. It makes them think that the world is working against them. It makes them think that the world hates them.

And who can blame them? If you and I were told such things from the moment we were born, we would think the exact same things, and we would have to work immensely harder to become confident and successful because we’d be working against those stereotypes.

Also, contrary to what the man in the video says, black communities consistently express outrage at black-on-black crime, but when black people kill other black people, they usually go to prison. The system prosecutes the offender. When white cops kill black citizens, that often does not happen. Black Lives Matter is protesting this injustice, especially since it is an injustice perpetrated by the very people who are supposed to protect them.

You may have seen these protests and thought this injustice was the black community’s only concern, but that’s not even close to accurate. Within the black community, polls show that people are more worried about black-on-black crime than about unjust policing, not less.

Finally, I will wrap up this letter with the absolute dagger in the heart of this video: Poor urban whites are statistically more likely to commit violent crimes than poor urban blacks.

And with that, the man’s entire argument falls apart. It has literally nothing to do with race.

Best regards,
Anthony