Tag Archives: racism

The history of blind auditions

From Nat Hentoff’s (really) excellent At the Jazz Band Ball: Sixty Years on the Jazz Scene. This selection is from chapter 47, “The Thoreau of Jazz”:

Art Davis, who died of aheart attack at seventy-three on July 29, 3007, was, for me, the Henry David Thoreau of jazz. I’ve known many people in the jazz family with admirable integrity, but Art Davis’s was fiercely unbreakable, whatever the cost.

Art Davis was a complete musician, as authoritative in a symphonic orchestra, a Broadway pit band, network studio assignment or accompanying, as he did, Judy Garland or country music comedienne Minne Pearl.

He also became a pariah in parts of the music business for years because he insisted on breaking the color line in symphony orchestras. As I had reported in the The Reporter magazine in the late 1950s, it was not only that Jim Crow managed much of that hiring. Also, as positions opened in an orchestra, the first-chair players (all of them white) would get management to hire their best students (also white) for those chairs.

For years, Art, having been turned down by leading symphony orchestras, challenged the conductors to pit him against any classical bassist they chose in an open competition. There were no takers. In the 1970s, he sued the New York State Philharmonic for racial discrimination, and as the years went on, until the case was dismissed, Art lost a lot of the previously highly diversified work for which he had been sought. Obviously, the man was a “troublemaker”.

But because of the lawsuit, the attendant publicity and Art’s continuing challenge to put any symphonic bass part–however deeply traditional or unprecedently avant-garde–before him in competition for a gig in any world-famous orchestra, he became the major force that created “blind auditions”. It became the practice, when there was an opening for any instrument, to audition the player behind a screen so that those judging his or her abilities–Art also protested gender discrimination–could hear the music but not see the musician. He lost the lawsuit, but won the battle.

Here is William Osborne with more on blind auditions and gender.

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Racism, juries, and justice denied

From the Equal Justice Initiative:

The staff of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) has looked closely at jury selection procedures in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee. We uncovered shocking evidence of racial discrimination in jury selection in every state. We identified counties where prosecutors have excluded nearly 80% of African Americans qualified for jury service. We discovered majority-black counties where capital defendants nonetheless were tried by all-white juries. We found evidence that some prosecutors employed by state and local governments actually have been trained to exclude people on the basis of race and instructed on how to conceal their racial bias. In many cases, people of color not only have been illegally excluded but also denigrated and insulted with pretextual reasons intended to conceal racial bias. African Americans have been excluded because they appeared to have “low intelligence”; wore eyeglasses; were single, married, or separated; or were too old for jury service at age 43 or too young at 28. They have been barred for having relatives who attended historically black colleges; for the way they walk; for chewing gum; and, frequently, for living in predominantly black neighborhoods. These “race-neutral” explanations and the tolerance of racial bias by court officials has made jury selection for people of color a hazardous venture, where the sting of exclusion often is accompanied by painful insults and injurious commentary.

This is worthwhile scholarship. Why hasn’t this happened before?

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Forgotten history: early 20th century black intellectual challenges to hereditarians

From Dismantling Contemporary Deficit Thinking: Educational Thought and Practice, by Richard Valencia (2010):

Another example of heterodoxy from the genetic pathology epoch was the work of a small cadre of African American scholars in the 1920s who confronted the hereditarian assertion that Blacks were intellectually inferior to Whites (see Thomas, 1982; Valencia 1997d). The mainstream journals were frequently controlled by editors and editorial boards who were hereditarians (for example, Lewis Terman’s editorial control over the Journal of Education Psychology and the Journal of Applied Psychology). As a result, many of these 1920s Black scholars were forced to publish their research in other outlets, such as Crisis and Opportunity, periodicals of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Urban League, respectively. These Black intellectuals’ scholarly assault on the 1920s mental testing falls into three categories (Thomas, 1982). First, some researchers focus on an environmental critique, for example, differences in educational opportunity between Whites and Blacks best account for racial differences in intellectual performance (e.g., Bond, 1924). Second, some of these scholars focus on methodological flaws or instrumentation problems. For example, Howard H. Long (1925)–who earned his doctorate in experimental psychology from Clark University–presents a technical criticism of IQ tests, contending that they contained numerous measurement problems, such as the inadequacy of using mental age scores for comparing IQ scores across races. Long notes that the procedure is flawed because it does not account for the correlation of mental age raw scores with chronological age. Third, some of the Black researchers conducted their own original research and generated their own data, thus providing alternative explanations to hereditarian-based conclusions drawn by White scholars. For example, Herman G. Canady (1928) in his master’s thesis was one of the first scholars to investigate examiner effects on intelligence testing with white and black children (also, see Canady, 1936).

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Thoughts on Rand Paul, racism, and naive libertarianism

I think Rand Paul is absolutely right when he defends the ability of people to engage in private, consensual relations, even if the content of those relations is offensive and wrong, like racism. He is however absolutely incorrect by extending this analysis to businesses like Whitworth’s, and here’s why.

I tend to think of laws against racist business practices in the same way I think of building codes, or food safety regulations. This is because a business implicates more than just the business owner and a customer; the community that the business exists in provides legal sanction for that business’s operation, and with that legal sanction is attached the variable requirements for building safety and good conduct that individual communities deem important and necessary for the operation of business. Regulations preventing racist business practices are no different from the health code or zoning laws in some important ways: they have a branding function that implicates both the business and the community the business is situated in, and they create dangerous environments that require intervention by law enforcement. It is not unreasonable that a government seeks to actively curate a city’s image (to enforce voter-expressed preferences) and regulates the business climate with that in mind, nor is it unreasonable that government should seek to prevent the public disorder that inevitably follows racist practices. I would add that regulations should also be content-neutral as a matter of fairness, but stipulation doesn’t meaningfully change my argument.

I could say alternatively that racism by businesses has serious negative externalities in practice and I’m ok with government regulation on those grounds.

So I think that Rand Paul, as much as I like his robust defense of civil liberties, is guilty of being delusionally naive about these questions.

Here is a couple of other worthwhile reads from Volokh Conspirators Ilya Somin and David Bernstein on the subject.

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Google Doesn’t Lie: Evidence of Racism During the Katrina Tragedy

Here is the wikipedia timeline for Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Note particularly formation (Aug. 23rd), Florida landfall (Aug 25th), Louisiana landfall (Aug. 29th), Gov. Blanco orders evacuation of New Orleans (Aug. 30th). The Senate passed the relief bill, rumors of looting began to filter through the media, and Kanye called out President Bush on MTV on the 1st of September.

The following graph is trend data from Google’s Insights for Search tool for the search term ‘niggers’. Note the first real deviation from the trend as searches begin to really spike somewhere within Aug. 29-31. The peak is on September 3rd, and by the 11th of September searches have reverted to their normal rate.

Search Trend for 'Niggers' August 2005-September 2005

Here are the geographic distribution and the list of top searches during this period.

Geographic Distribution and Top Searches, Aug. 2005-Sept. 2005

The story here seems pretty simple; large-scale natural disaster in a prominent city with a majority black population (67.5%) seems to have provoked a pattern of racial animosity that is visibly concentrated in California, Texas, Florida, and New York. Keep in mind that this picture is incomplete for at least two reasons. First, Google’s search data may not be fully aggregated and indexed or have been made searchable yet. Second, the search data is incomplete because people can block their information from being tagged with geographical parameters. And there may be other idiosyncratic reasons as to why the data is severely under-reported, but there is nothing I can see that mitigates the conclusion that a non-negligible group of Americans continues to harbor vicious racial animosity.

Here, by the way, is the link to the Google Insight for Search page that this data came from.

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