Racism at Yale and Philosophy in Real Life
Lolade Siyonbola, a graduate student in African studies at Yale University, took a break from working on a paper Monday night in a common room in her dorm to take a nap. The next thing she knows, she was awakened by a white student who reportedly flipped on the lights, told her she had no right to be there, and who called the campus police to report her.
The campus police came, checked the students’ identification, and tried to figure out what was going on. Ms. Siyonbola video-recorded the interaction with the police, which took longer than usual “because the student’s preferred name, which was printed on her ID, was different from what was in the university record,” The New York Times reports a school official saying.
The incident adds an incredibly passive entry—napping—to the depressingly long “x-ing while black” list of mundane activities which black people have unjustifiably been called on to justify to law enforcement. Additionally, Ms. Siyonbola can be heard during the video telling police that the same white student had previously called the campus police on a black friend of hers whose “offense” was that he was in the building.
What does any of this have to do with philosophy? The student who called the cops on Ms. Siyonbola is a PhD student in Yale’s philosophy program.
The point of this post is not to vilify that student (so no details about her in the comments, please). For one thing, we don’t know if we know all of the pertinent facts. I seriously doubt that any details will emerge that would justify the philosophy student’s calling the police to report Ms. Siyonbola. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t details that might emerge that might be relevant to how we should react to the philosophy student’s behavior. For another thing, the philosophy student is, after all, a student, and I don’t think it is unreasonable to generally be more cautious in contributing to the internet condemnations of junior members of the profession.
We can, however, reflect on the fact that someone got so far into their education, including philosophy at such a prestigious level, and yet did not apparently stop to make use of the tools her education ought to have furnished her, such as the capacity for constructing thought experiments. It is hard to imagine the philosophy student calling the cops on, say, a white, blond, woman for napping in the common room amid her books and papers. It is also hard to imagine why she did not avail herself of this counterfactual in a rather simple thought experiment—“would I call the cops on a white, blond, woman for napping in the common room?”—before calling the cops on Ms. Siyonbola. Yes, we may lament that such a thought experiment is even needed, but it is worse to fail to “accept the racism within,” as George Yancy put it, and then fail to take the cognitive effort to combat it.
On top of whatever this incident teaches us about the persistence and pervasiveness of racism, there is a reminder for us, as philosophy teachers, to take seriously and impart to our students: the skills involved in doing philosophy can be deployed not just to score points in conference q & a’s or to trace the next twist in an ongoing academic argument, but to live more thoughtfully, for our own sake and the sake of others. If we can’t make our lives better with philosophy, why bother with it?
(Thanks to several readers for bringing this story to my attention.)
My personal impression is that philosophy does not impart any significant critical thinking skills or wisdom (the etymology of its name, notwithstanding) outside of the narrow confines of its professional scope. In fact, my impression is that philosophers are worse in these practical virtues than folks in other disciplines with comparable education.Report
> my impression is that philosophers are worse in these practical virtues than folks in other disciplines with comparable education.
Which other disciplines do better, and in what sort of critical thinking?Report
I agree with the first sentence but not the second. I think philosophers are a bit better than others with a similar level of education on certain matters, but not nearly as much as they should be.Report
While I think we probably do do better than other departments, it is actually pretty rare for a philosopher to seriously question their own core moral and political beliefs. Few of us, for instance, would seriously question our opposition to racism, so it should come as no suprirse if racist philosophers don’t seriously question their racism.Report
I think philosophy imparts plenty of critical thinking skills and at least a little wisdom (little of it practical). Nonetheless, I also found the idea in the original post that philosophy could/should have helped here to be quite odd.
When I imagine what this woman needs, it’s hard to how the answer is “more philosophy.” To the extent that it was an ‘honest’ mistake, she needs something like empirically informed therapy to help her overcome the racist stereotypes that are distorting her situational awareness and threat perception. To the extent that it wasn’t an honest mistake, but was instead an attempt to pursue a personal grudge or to racially monitor the space, she needs a firm talking to and probably some serious consequences in order to clarify acceptable behavior at her institution. But regardless of how we divvy it all out, the idea that what she needs is a thought experiment strikes me as, well… pretty odd.Report
Can’t help but think of all the philosophers who hopped on this message board four months ago to say that philosophy of race was inappropriate for an intro to philosophy course either because it was too niche or ideological.Report
I sent the following message to Yale’s president:
Dear President Salovey:
You, Yale University, the Yale Police Department, and the officers involved all owe Ms. Lolade Siyonbola an apology; indeed you should beg for her forgiveness. I am embarrassed for you.Report
The person that was most responsible was the grad student who called the police. I don’t see why the University or the president ought to apologize. However, I don’t have the full info and you have some incriminating stuff on their culpability.Report
Once she showed her ID, the police should have apologized and left.Report
Agreed. In fact they should have left as soon as she used her key to open her dorm door.Report
“For another thing, the philosophy student is, after all, a student, and I don’t think it is unreasonable to generally be more cautious in contributing to the internet condemnations of junior members of the profession.”
I think the behavior exhibited was inexcusable, and professional tribal affiliation might not be a sufficient reason not to condemn. Whether she should be outed is a different question, though, given the likelihood of public involvement. I also note that the same person apparently did the same thing months ago, i.e. challenging another black graduate student before calling the police, and the police actually admonished her for doing so.Report
This is a great post. I agree with it and I also like the balance between discussing injustice and not being too gossipy.
Philosophy education should help people to live better, not merely to master a certain academic language and make clever but otherwise useless remarks in seminars and conferences. Ethicists especially should be more ethical than your average person, because their attention is brought to ethical issues in a way that isn’t the case for ordinary people, and willful neglect of known ethical duty is worse than not having thought about one’s duty yet. There’s no point in only theory and no practice. To quote a great spiritual teacher: “people who do not live what they think are useless.”Report
Perhaps philosophical education should have these laudable and lofty aims, but in my experience, an education in philosophy these days is much more banal.Report
As someone who is blond and has received the suspicious looks and the uncomfortable “jokes” whenever racism comes up in conversation as if I would somehow countenance the behavior because of my hair color, I have to ask.
Is it necessary and appropriate to mention that the counterfactual woman is blond when you say, “would I call the cops on a white, blond, woman for napping in the common room?” Is a “white, blond woman” less threatening than a “white woman” in 21st century America?Report
A white, blond person is extra-white on our society’s dumb racial taxonomies, not unlike a blue-eyed person.Report
Rick, I am aware of that, and I am also aware that this fact *could* be part of an explanation why mentioning it is necessary and appropriate, much as race and racial history are necessary in many justifications of affirmative action, but I do not see it here.Report
The idea that a 30-something person, let alone a well-educated adult who purports to work on areas (ironically) relevant to this incident, deserves some sort of additional benefit of the doubt for this behavior is ridiculous. Of course students are still learning. But protection from overly-severe criticism only applies to professional criticism relating to one’s work and job performance, not to personal and social behavior. Absent further details relating to her competence or previous antagonism, why shield her from anything?
As another commenter points out, this person’s name is out there and this incident is being covered by numerous news agencies. I don’t see anything wrong with that.Report
Possible argument (genuinely unsure whether I endorse it): Because if they are named publicly thousands of people all individually decide to, by themselves deliver the whole amount of shaming the person deserves, individually, leading to them getting many times the level of shaming they actually deserves. (Plus a few people with very weird ideas about what is the appropriate amount probably send death threats or something.)Report
After watching these videos, I can’t help but think about the militarization of college campuses in the USA. Several high profile school shootings have accelerated an already growing trend, which is the proliferation of security forces and increased policing of the physical borders of the university. I can’t help but wonder if whether 25 years ago, the white student would have simply been told to deal with this on her own. “There’s someone who doesn’t belong here.” “Uh… are they being in any way disruptive? If not, then maybe this isn’t an issue for the police?”
Now, we inhabit a “see something, say something” culture where unbalanced people can summon armed police officers at will because someone is sleeping in a common room. And because we are more likely to see certain populations (African Americans) as a threat, those people will bear the emotional burden of this new culture. Truly awful.Report
Yale News is reporting that the student has called the police on a black student a few months ago, and the details from that event make it seem like she knew Siyonbola:
At the risk of speculating, this may be less a case of failure to apply critical thinking skills to system 1 responses or unconscious attitudes affecting one’s perceptions, and more a product of overt deeper animosity. Doesn’t affect whether it’s condemnation-worthy of course, but details like this can matter when compiling case studies for broader aims – when people skeptical of the scope of implicit bias etc find out such details, they take such stories to be fake news or hyped up for liberal narratives. “That case wasn’t implicit bias, it was explicit, and the fact you didn’t know that shows your media sources are inapt” feeds way too easily into “and therefore implicit bias probably isn’t a problem at all.”Report
This strikes me as an incredibly brash and cruel way to treat one’s fellow student. I knew of someone who had someone removed from a common room, but the person removed did not live there and had effectively turned part of the common room into his bedroom.Report
Since I have recently posted several comments on this site under my first name, which happens to be Louis, I just thought I’d make clear that I am not the Louis who posted this comment (immediately above). Maybe I should consider adding the initial of my last name in future comments here. Not that I have any objection to the substance of this comment, I should add.Report
I can’t help but notice that this post does *not* choose to protect the identity of the victim, a black woman, but chooses to protect the identity of the perpetrator, a white woman in her 40’s. I can’t help but think that this is but one of a long list of examples of people inclined to coddle white women, frequently at the expense of black people (including men).
If this was a case of sexual misconduct, of a man against a woman, there would be no hesitation in naming the perpetrator. So why the reluctance in this case?Report
Probably because one of those people chose to publicly identify herself (and is not the most likely target for the internet dogpile anyway).Report
I think my question still stands. If a woman graduate student recorded a male graduate student sexually harassing her, with video evidence, and she uploaded the video to social media, I *highly* doubt Justin and others would say, “For one thing, we don’t know if we know all of the pertinent facts… But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t details that might emerge that might be relevant to how we should react to the philosophy student’s behavior.”
I think many people would be stunned if he said such a thing.
Again, why the disparity between a documented case of racial harassment and a documented case of sexual harassment?Report
Just as a relevant point of information, there have been occasions on which I have refrained from naming both professors and graduate students accused of sexual harassment.Report
I am sympathetic to this comment and understand the concern. In this case, I’m sure that part of Justin’s motivation was that he is a tenured philosophy professor on a widely read philosophy blog ‘outing’ a grad student in the field. While I think the PhD student ought to accept responsibility for this likely career-ending incident, and while I don’t think she ought to be ‘protected’ from the damage to her reputation, Justin himself has special, powerful reasons to be extremely cautious when outing less powerful members of the discipline. As a group, grads can be extremely vulnerable in a number of ways, and it isn’t his place to end their careers (especially when the rest of the internet is currently doing that for him).
This, I take it, is what Justin meant when he said “The philosophy student is, after all, a student, and I don’t think it is unreasonable to generally be more cautious in contributing to the internet condemnations of junior members of the profession.” This is arguably a good general policy, though I suppose he might have avoided naming the other student out of fairness.Report
Thanks for this, Nick.Report
I don’t disagree that it’s a good general policy. My worry is that it is (or will be) selectively applied. Maybe there ought to be special precaution since the student is a philosophy student, but her just being a student can’t be the right standard.Report
Let’s set aside “Justin himself.”
Some of us in the philosophy profession–albeit only about 1% of us–are black. Substantively frivolous calls to the police seriously endanger black life prospects (at least there was no arrest in this case) and even black lives, to say nothing of psychological well-being.
So I’m confident that most black folks hardly care, relatively speaking, about this white woman’s professional vulnerabilities that could be triggered by her pattern of racial harassment. She hasn’t even had the sense to apologize yet. Then again, the odds were decent that privilege might publicly shield her in the profession.
This latest black student who was victimized made a point of publicly identifying the racial harasser: “Siyonbola wrote, ‘[…], Philosophy PhD student, called the cops on my friend a few months ago for getting lost in my building.'” Some of us, especially in philosophy, have reason to be relieved to know the harasser’s identity.Report
yeah, this is really messed up. if Justin’s thought is not to name the accused, he should also be choosing not to name the accuser.
Name neither or both. But you’ve already named one, so you better name the other. And the accuser’s name is already all over the internet and twitter.
this is very disappointing.Report
As is obvious to anyone paying attention, and as Justin has already pointed out, the accuser has revealed her identity while actively publicizing what happened, unlike the accused. Moreover, the accuser is not a junior member of the very profession to which this cite is dedicated, unlike the accused.
These facts give good reasons for thinking that there is a principled difference between naming the accuser and naming the accused on this site.
Even if you don’t think that these facts give decisive reasons for Justin’s decision, it is ridiculous to characterize his decision as “really messed up,” as if there couldn’t be any good reason for his decision.
It seems to me equally ridiculous that GSOC simply “can’t help but think” that Justin’s decision resulted from some racist impulse to coddle white women at the expense of black women, again as if there couldn’t be any good reason for his decision.
I think we really need to be more charitable to Justin and generally more charitable to each other. I say this as someone who’s poc and who’s experience racism. I also say it as someone who sometimes disagrees with Justin’s opinion and decisions.Report
Thank you, Philodemus.Report
If you agree that we should protect a philosophy graduate student in a parallel situation where a non-philosophy graduate student records sexual harassment from that student, then that’s fine. I’m just skeptical that this would be the case, but I’m happy to be wrong on this.Report
Do you think I should redact the name of the black student who was harassed? I didn’t because she has been actively publicizing what happened to her, but I am open to hearing arguments that I should.Report
My own opinion is that both names are already public, so anything you do has a negligible effect. Either both or neither; I’m on the side of both, but others might have different views.Report
1. There is a chance–small as it might be–that naming the victim results in further harm to her.
2. This is a cost of naming her
3. The benefits of naming her do not outweigh the costs
4. If the benefits of naming do not outweigh the costs, you should redact
So, you should redact.
I’m not sure how much confidence we should have in premise 3.Report
1. The purpose of the post is to draw our attention to what is (possibly?) an injustice perpetrated by a member of the profession
2. Given the purpose of the post, naming her is unnecessary
3. Naming her could result in further harm to her
4. If all of 1-3 are true, you should redact
So, you should redact.
I’m not sure how much confidence we should have in premise 4Report
Here’s a third:
1. To publicize her name is to put her at risk for backlash–minimal as it might be
2. Her putting herself at risk does not give another person a reason to put her at risk
3. Given both 1 and 2, her publicizing her name does not give another person a reason to put her at risk
4. If 3 is true, then her publicizing her name does not give another person a reason publicize her name
5. Given 3 and 4, her publicizing her name does not give another person a reason to publicize her name
6. Her publicizing her name is the only reason you believe yourself to have for naming her
7. If both 5 and 6, you should redact
So, you should redact
I’m not sure how much confidence we should have in premise 3.Report
Here’s a simpler one:
The student at issue publicly came forward with this, and attached her name to each of the public statements she made. Erasing her identity because you think you know better than her is paternalistic and condescending.Report
It may be simpler. But that seems to be its downfall. It treats Justin’s redacting as being done for the reason that he knows better. But that’s certainly not necessarily true.Report
If you like simple arguments, here’s one:
1. You want to be sure not to contribute to any harm that might result from not redacting
2. If so, you should redactReport
“The white backlash is an expression of the same vacillations, the same search for rationalizations, the same lack of commitment that have always characterized white America on the question of race.” (72)
“Over the last few years many Negroes have felt that their most troublesome adversary was not the obvious bigot of the Ku Klux Klan or the John Birch Society, but the white liberal…. Even in areas where liberals have great influence…the situation of the Negro is not much better than in areas where they are not dominant. This is why many liberals have fallen into the trap of seeing integration in merely aesthetic terms.'” (93)
–Martin Luther King, Jr., “Racism and the White Backlash,” in Where Do We Go From Here (Beacon, 1968)Report
Can you apply that more explicitly to this case?Report
Steve’s comment below fits, but prime might have had something different in mind.Report
Much of what we find on this page can be characterized as a negative response to racial progress (or “white backlash”). Racial progress involves taking proactive steps to treat members of another race as one treats oneself in relevant respects–in particular, with the same dignity, respect, competence to understand one’s experiences, etc. Many of the comments above express a lack of such treatment for the victim.
Many of the commenters (who can be accurately characterized as “white liberals”) seem to have had negative responses to racial progress as characterized. For example, some commenters seem to push back against people who would believe that the victim is competent enough in understanding the situation involving the other grad, to be confident that she is being treated unjustly. This is why “white liberals” can be regarded as an adversary.Report
This quote is so apt. And yet, I can’t help but be disappointed in them anyway. Shame on me, as they say.Report
From what I’ve understood just from reading this and watching a few minutes of the video, the whole situation is very strange. It does appear the philosophy grad student is a yucky human being and probably explicitly racist. But it is almost so obvious – that I wonder if something is missing. On the other hand, the philosophy grad hasn’t came out and explained herself, has she? And I would think if she had anything to say (who knows what) she probably would have.
As for what this means about philosophy – by itself nothing. Statistically speaking, the fact that one nutty racist somehow made their way into an elite grad program in philosophy is not much evidence of anything. I never thought philosophers were particularly ethical, and if not, then surely some are racists. Did anyone think philosophers are better people? And even if you think we are or should be better on average, one case does not speak against this. Again, given this is one case out of thousands of philosophers, I do not know what conclusions we can draw. It seems we would expect one weirdo/horrible persons to sadly make their way through…law of large numbers and such. If there is evidence there is some sort of trend amongst philosophers, that is beyond disturbing, obviously.
If the video is what it seems, the philosophy grad student should be required to move out of the same building as the victim. It is surely unfair that she is forced to see this nutty and hostile woman everyday. And if these are university properties, the university could easily demand this.Report
“If the video is what it seems, the philosophy grad student should be required to move out of the same building as the victim. It is surely unfair that she is forced to see this nutty and hostile woman everyday. And if these are university properties, the university could easily demand this.”
*If* the facts are as they are being described, “being required to move out of the same building” doesn’t exhaust the reasonable responses. This is a prima facie case of racially charged harassment; putting aside this particular case, I think a student whom a proper internal disciplinary process has determined to be harassing other community members on racial grounds could reasonably be required to leave University housing altogether, or even suspended or expelled from their program, particularly if the harasser has already received some kind of formal warning.Report
Okay I just read a further article about this philosophy grad student. She seems pretty near a white supremacist, if what I read (on a website that I am not sure on the credibility) is correct. While I still don’t think this says something about philosophers in general, it does say something about the Yale philosophy department. Even if she hide this somehow when she was accepted – wouldn’t they have figured it out some time? The university needs to take action.Report
Setting aside the particular case: do you really want the philosophy department, or any department, to have taken coercive action against a student based on their political views, as distinct from their actual behavior to community members? I have no objection to a university disciplining – even expelling – a student on the basis of the way they behaved to another student, staff member, or faculty member. But to extrapolate from someone’s views to the action they *might* take would be problematic on academic-freedom grounds.Report
David Wallace – I agree. But I am just surprised I haven’t heard about it. And now they have two occasions to do something.Report
David Wallace: Racism is NOT a political view (neither is misogyny). Nor are racism or misogyny academic freedom issues. They are systems of oppression and as such are incompatible with any environment that purports to be inclusive or to support a “free exchange of ideas.”Report
If racism, sexism and the like aren’t political views then they must be moral views, and it seems reasonable to think that any arguments to the effect that employers shouldn’t take coercive action against people with those views will carry over.
I think the better response here is to deny Wallace’s claim that departments shouldn’t take action against people with certain political (or moral) views. I’m not sure what reason we have to think that is true – maybe David could say more?Report
Visceral responses like this are why I tend to stay quiet in discussions approaching values. At least in LEMM the worst response to a question will a joke about insanity.Report
At least in LEMM the worst response to a question will a joke about insanity.
Have you ever gone to a talk by Jerry Fodor or Kim Sterelny (among others)? This seems to be putting some of the responses a bit too mildly!Report
FWIW I didn’t think the comments (mostly!) have been out of line, People feel really strongly about these issues; I get that; they have good reason to. I think that when passions run high it’s all the more reason to stick to liberal norms of free speech and due process, but I do understand that advocating that can come across as bloodless and uncaring about the – very serious – underlying issues.Report
Ken – “If racism, sexism and the like aren’t political views then they must be moral views.” This strikes me as a false dichotomy. If by “view” you mean something like a proposition towards which someone adopts and reflectively endorses an attitude (e.g., belief), then extensive research on implicit biases reveals them not necessarily to be proposition-like at all, to often involve affective states (fear, disgust, etc.), and to strongly resist rational revision. While explicit biases might include (but are not limited to) propositional attitudes, racism and sexism involve mechanisms far too diverse to be categorized either as a political view or as a moral view. Moreover, racism and sexism span *all* political and moral views (assuming that such views are sets of claims about issues within their respective spheres). There are liberal, conservative, centrist, libertarian, moderate, socialist, etc., racists and sexists. There are also anti-abortion and pro-abortion racists and sexists, Utilitarian and Kantian racists and sexists, and so forth. I agree with you that Wallace’s claim should be denied but understanding why involves grappling with the scope and complexity of racism and sexism.Report
This is a very dangerous weapon. Let’s see what happens if it gets into the wrong hands:
“Israel’s right to exist and defend itself is NOT a political view, nor is Israel’s right to exist and defend itself an academic freedom issue.” (So let’s expel any students and faculty who support BDS.)
“The murder of the unborn is NOT a political view, nor is the murder of the unborn an academic freedom issue”. (So let’s expel all the pro-choice students and faculty.)
The norm that universities do not constrain their members’ beliefs and views (though they can censure their actual behavior to community members) is *much* safer and more robust than the norm that universities – and indeed political forces that can compel universities – can make their own assessments as to which of their members and views do and do not deserve sanction. That puts a dangerous amount of power in their hands, and whatever you think about the right ways of using that power, it’s naïve to think that it won’t end up getting used for the wrong ends. As I end up saying whenever this discussion comes up, quis custodes ipsos custodiet.Report
Your two supposed analogies do not work. With the case of Israel/BDS, the issue is quite complicated. There are many, many sub-issues that people can disagree about reasonably that would determine whether or not they support Israel. Their reasoning on those sub-issues would often be generalizable to thinking about many other cases of the actions of nations or would-be nations–actual principles would be at stake. Much the same could be said about abortion and women’s rights relative to it.
Racism is not an intellectual stance on a debatable issue, nor is anti-semitism, nor is misogyny. They are additudinal postures involving some cognitive claims, but are primarily characterized by their emotional content and their corrosive social effects. You’re equating the three with topics that are debatable is wrong.
Additionally, the phrase “quis custodes ipsos custodiet” is mostly empty because it can always be asked of virtually all human relations based on trust in other’s discretionary judgments–that is pretty much all human relations. In practice, it is usually invoked when people want to avoid actual accountability.Report
Can you give me an argument as to why abortion is a debatable issue but “racism” isn’t, *that doesn’t already assume a particular political stance*? (Bear in mind that people who liberals call “racist” don’t accept that their views and beliefs are racist, for the most part, just as people whom pro-life activists call “anti-life” don’t accept that abortion is murder, and people whom defenders of Israel call “anti-Semitic” don’t accept that description.)
As for the Juvenal quote, you’re misunderstanding it. The issue isn’t just trusting “other’s discretionary judgements” – it’s how much we leave matters to the discretionary judgement of those in power, rather than constraining them by norms and rules. Liberals who are completely sanguine about empowering people in charge to make substantive calls on matters of allowing and disallowing speech might want to reflect on which political party currently has unified control of the Federal government and 26 states.Report
@ David Wallace, please see my response to Ken above (briefly restated here). The reason I claim that racism and sexism are not political views is because it is a category error to claim that they are *views* of any kind at all. I said to Ken, “If by ‘view’ you mean something like a proposition towards which someone adopts and reflectively endorses an attitude (e.g., belief), then extensive research on implicit biases reveals them not necessarily to be proposition-like at all, to often involve affective states (fear, disgust, etc.), and to strongly resist rational revision. While explicit biases might include (but are not limited to) propositional attitudes, racism and sexism involve mechanisms far too diverse to be categorized either as a political view or as a moral view.” This is why I don’t think that your two analogies work – you are comparing two views to a non-view. In response to your concern that universities not constrain or regulate their members views, you misunderstand my position. I am not advocating that universities regulate the views of their members. But universities *have* for quite some time regulated the behavior of their members; and I claim that universities should constrain and regulate behavior that manifests implicit or explicit racist and sexist attitudes (I construe behavior broadly here to include linguistic behavior).Report
“I claim that universities should constrain and regulate behavior that manifests implicit or explicit racist and sexist attitudes (I construe behavior broadly here to include linguistic behavior).”
Or, to paraphrase: university administrators should have the power to discipline students if they infer from their speech that they have undesired implicit attitudes.
I don’t think I have anything much to say to convince anyone who doesn’t already see that as an absolutely chilling prospect, or who doesn’t realize the risks of empowering authorities with that kind of weapon.
(I also don’t see why, on your approach, an administrator couldn’t discipline a student protesting against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank on the grounds that (in the administrator’s judgement) the way they carried out their protest manifested implicit anti-Semitism. Live by the sword, die by the sword.)Report
“I also don’t see why, on your approach, an administrator couldn’t discipline a student protesting against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank on the grounds that (in the administrator’s judgement) the way they carried out their protest manifested implicit anti-Semitism.”
This is a poor example because in the case of the Israeli occupation, it is a false inference from the fact that someone protests the occupation to a motive of anti-semitism. OTOH, it is a perfectly rational inference that someone who, say, has a history of calling the cops on black students who have every right to be someplace (and not on white students who are there) is a racist.
But while it is a fallacious example, I agree with the broader point that admins cannot be trusted with this task for it applies common sense inferences which many admin do not seem to posses.Report
honestly this is a strange view. Sure, racism/sexism/etc can manifest as implicit bias, which seem to be non-cognitive in some sense, but they also manifest as propositional beliefs. One might explicitly believe (as people actually do) “black people are should not live near white people” or “a woman’s testimony is worth a quarter of a man’s.” I, and most people here, think those claims are false, but that is only possible because they are the sort of thing that can be true/false.Report
@HopelessMisanthrope: I don’t think we really disagree. Note that I didn’t say that it would be rationally justifiable to infer anti-Seminitism from the very fact of protesting Israel. But the point (as you note yourself) is not: what inferences are rationally justifiable, but: what inferences will in fact be made by administrators, or other authority figures.
@Josh: yes, I agree: if you track back through this tangled conversation, the original claim (I don’t know whether it’s right or not) was that the student in question is a white supremacist, and white supremacism is pretty clearly inter alia a set of propositional beliefs. But the point is, even if you don’t think these views are propositional, it’s still disastrously dangerous to empower authority figures to discipline people based on inferring them from speech acts.
(I also think it’s morally wrong, but I think the pragmatic case is easier to establish from shared premises.)Report
@Josh – This is the considered analysis of implicit attitudes accepted (with some variations, of course) by most philosophers working in that area and grounded in empirical psychological research on the topic. Check out Tamar Szabó Gendler’s “Alief and Belief” JoP, 2008; “Alief in Action (and Reaction)” Mind and Language (2008); or any of the papers in “Implicit Bias and Philosophy” edited by Michael Brownstein and Jennifer Saul. It’s worth noting that even explicit biases are not as straightforwardly propositional as you seem to think.Report
@ David Wallace – I recognize your worry about university administrations, but I agree with @HopelessMisanthrope that your example is a poor one, and I think that your paraphrase of me misses the point. Universities certainly retain the right to expel an undergraduate for posting swastikas on campus or a noose on a professor’s door (as happened at Columbia in 2007). Repeatedly calling the police on black students is, in the present social context, potentially dangerous for those students. Universities have the right to reduce harm – and the potential for harm – to their students (and, frankly, faculty and staff) as far as they can (especially harm perpetrated by other students, especially when those students have a record of behavior that is potentially harmful to other students). Indeed, I would argue that they have an obligation to do so. Protesting Israel’s occupation of the West Bank does not obviously fall in the category of behavior that is potentially harmful to students.Report
I think at this stage I ‘ve made my point as clearly as I’m going to, so I won’t try to reply further.Report
“The Department is committed to providing a safe, respectful, and supportive environment for all of its students, faculty, and staff. In addition to being necessary for health and welfare, nothing is more important to the quality of philosophical community we share and value. The Department takes concerns about sexual misconduct and other forms of discrimination very seriously.”
I think (and hope) we are entering a period when bland handwaving like that is forcefully rejected.Report
D.C.: What do you think should replace what you are calling “bland handwaving”?Report
Specifically calling out hateful behavior, and threatening repercussions for it. “We have zero tolerance for this kind of bullshit, and we are going to have a long talk with the student in question and let her know we will not tolerate that behavior.”Report
It would be a really bad idea for a university department – or anyone, really – to have an approach to disciplinary matters where you publicly state your conclusion prior to any opportunity for the person being defended to state their case, on the basis of information collected from the press without any due diligence of your own. Even if the department doesn’t care about due process in its own right, it would be setting itself up to be sued into oblivion the first time it makes a mistake.
What matters is not the boilerplate “we take the issue really seriously” text that any department has but the actual mechanisms by which they take it seriously. “prime” ends their quote from Yale’s website a little early: the fuller quote is “The Department takes concerns about sexual misconduct and other forms of discrimination very seriously, and the University maintains a number of resources to address questions concerning them:
Sexual Misconduct Response at Yale
Office of the Provost-Title IX
Office for Equal Opportunity Programs”
I have no idea how effective or sensible those resources are (my interest in this doesn’t extend to following their links) but that’s the question that matters in assessing Yale’s approach.Report
I’m, sorry, but is your stance really that it would be bad for departments is announce that racially based hatred and prejudice (what D.C. is talking about) is bad? What is the point of you?Report
“but is your stance really that it would be bad for departments is announce that racially based hatred and prejudice (what D.C. is talking about) is bad?”
I’m fine with departments announcing that racially based hatred and prejudice is bad (indeed, Yale’s “bland handwaving” statement does pretty much that). I’m opposed to them announcing, ahead of a proper investigation and due process and on the back of a viral internet story, “this particular one of our students committed an act of racially based hatred and prejudice, and will be disciplined for it”.
“What is the point of you?”
I don’t work on those sort of questions; maybe ask someone in existentialism or philosophy of religion?Report
“I don’t work on those sort of questions”
Way to fail the Turing test..Report
My sense of humor is much too dry for humans to reproduce.Report
“Yale’s “bland handwaving” statement does pretty much that)”
I don’t think it does.Report
Yeah, I wondered about that – I agree there’s probably room for it to be a bit sharper and more emphatic. But that’s a long way from calling out a specific person, ahead of due process.Report
It might very well be that the philosophy grad student called campus security because of race-driven implicit or even explicit bias against the grad student who was sleeping in the common room.
But, based on what I have seen so far in the videos that the grad student who was sleeping in the common room posted and in WaPo and in one of the Yale campus papers, the explanation *could* be quite different.
I recognize that many people think that this is a clear and obvious case of racism doing its ugly thing. I also recognize that some people think that any attempt to consider alternative explanations for what they take to be a racist incident is itself problematic. I do worry about being part of the problem in cases where I find myself considering alternatives to a particular instance that purports to be an example of racism, but I also think that it is crucial to be wary of easy accounts driven by Internet outrage and that we have a responsibility to consider multiple angles of the sort that I am going to explore below. I get that some readers of Daily Nous will probably disagree; so be it.
This happened in the middle of the night. Perhaps the philosophy grad student came into a dark common room and turned on the light and found the other grad student sleeping there, did not recognize her, and perceived the situation as one in which the other woman was more-or-less squatting in the common room. (Even if it was clear that the sleeping woman was a student, it very well could have been, for all the philosophy grad student knew at the time, that the other woman was not supposed to be in the dorm at all, much less sleeping there in a common space at night.) Maybe the philosophy grad student’s perception was influenced in meaningful ways by racial bias; maybe not. Maybe the philosophy grad student was simply irked that she could not make a cup of tea and enjoy it in the common space because someone had apparently set up camp in there. Maybe the philosophy grad student said (in a non-confrontational tone? in a tone of annoyance? in a condescending way?) to the groggy grad student emerging from sleep that she is not supposed to be sleeping in that room and the grad student emerging from sleep responded in a dismissive or angry way. Maybe it was only after the grad student who had been sleeping refused to say something that signaled that she lived in the dorm that the philosophy grad student came to believe that campus security should check it out. (Because of the use of the elevator in one of the videos that got posted, it appears that the grad student who was sleeping in the common room lives on another floor of the building; it could be that the philosophy grad student did not remember seeing the other grad student in the building before.) Maybe the philosophy grad student decided that it would better to let the woman who had been sleeping know that she was going to call campus security before she did it so that the woman who had been sleeping could go back to her room, if she lived in the building, and avoid the campus police entirely.
Or maybe the philosophy grad student hates Black people and called the cops for something that no reasonable person would have perceived as a problem. Or maybe the philosophy grad student acted in a way that she thought at the time was legitimate but was in fact driven by bias. Or maybe it was something else.
I doubt anyone of us on this thread has good reason to know.
What we do know about this situation, it seems, is that the grad student who posted the videos claims she was targeted because of her race. We should take that seriously. We also know that the philosophy grad student called campus security and now is being publicly shamed. And we know that people who do not actually know much more about the situation that what I have just described in the previous two sentences are now weighing in on one of the more influential academic philosophy blogs and speculating about how racist the philosophy grad student must be.Report
Great, now try to explain away her previous behavior.Report
Which behavior in particular? Most are addressed here:
Once you’ve got an army of motivated reasoners combing through your life looking for evidence that you’re a witch, it’s not hard for them to find it. And when the public is socially motivated to be nasty against you *in the name of morality*, they will find that evidence very compelling indeed.
Don’t think it can’t, or won’t, happen to you.Report
Everything in this article has been addressed elsewhere in this comments section.Report
Not at all convincingly, not satire (unless you’re already extremely strongly inclined toward that conclusion).Report
What would convince you that her behavior was probably a result of discomfort with black people (since many people bridle at ‘racism’)? Would a 3rd black person convince you? A fourth? More? A racial slur? An assertion like “I get suspicious whenever I see black people I am not familiar with, I don’t know what they’re up to”?
I’m genuinely asking here.
If there were evidence of involvement with anti-racism movements, I would be less disturbed by her actions. Still disturbed, but less so. If she actually seemed to have a good, non-hypocritical argument against Burkas, I’d be less inclined to think she was prejudiced. (I agree that the slavery debate, on its own, is not suggestive of anything). If she had, in fact, called the cops on some white folks, I’d be less inclined to think it was racism. Believe it or not, my judgments are responsive to evidence.Report
Good to hear it, not satire.
Yes, if she said she were a racist, or something like that, that would be good evidence that she’s prejudiced against black people. But many other things would convince me, too.
I would *not* be persuaded by the mere fact that she had called the cops on, say, five different black people, since I have no idea how many people she called the cops on altogether or what the cases were like. That would be straighforwardly fallacious reasoning.
However, if I learned that she had sometimes seen unknown white people walking around in the same hallway, or sleeping in the common room, and not confronted those people, *and* there were nothing else that would explain the different treatment (such as her knowing for a fact that there are no black people living in the building, which would give her a reasonable basis for thinking these people were intruders), then I would assume that racial discrimination is the most plausible explanation.Report
This is an absolutely terrible article. I’m pretty sensitive to concerns about the bipartisan Outrage Machine, but just think for five seconds about the following claims:
1. A different black student was “physically blocked” by this PhD student from entering a space, and this PhD student called campus police on the different student. There are not reports of any other students being targeted in this way
2. She’s made pro-slavery arguments, albeit for a very limited form of slavery.
3. She completely prioritizes First Amendment rights, arguing that there is no sufficient reason to restrict any hate speech whatsoever.
4. She supports a Burqa Ban.
5. She has argued in print, confusedly, that race isn’t “real” solely because it’s a product of human judgments and responses.
And, the kicker:
6. ” Unfotunately, there is no evidence that [victim’s] being black had anything to do with [PhD’s] decision to call the police… It’s irresponsible for networks to trot this story out without any evidence of any type of racism.”
The author simply doesn’t know what ‘evidence’ is. Actually, it’s worse: the author knows what it is but refuses to actually deploy this knowledge in the piece. Trivially, when there is evidence for X, that does not rule out alternate interpretations Y and Z. The evidence still exists. This isn’t some abstract, revisionary philosophical analysis of the term “evidence”, it’s a plain set of truths available to anyone who thinks about this for 5 seconds. While I’m trying not to say this too strongly, the notion that someone affiliated with philosophy (of all fields) would uncritically share this article is disappointing. Surely one of our jobs as philosophers is to combat fallacious, conceptually confused speech, not to uncritically share it.Report
Yes, Nick. One of our jobs as philosophers is to combat fallacious, conceptually confused speech, and not to uncritically share it. A big part of that is considering both sides of an issue, especially where you have a huge number of people univocally concluding the same thing and failing even to take seriously the alternative possibilities. That’s exactly why this original post, and the remarkably uncritical responses left by professional philosophers through most of this comments thread, are so utterly disgusting and dispiriting.
Philosophers should be at the forefront of those questioning and challenging the universal consensus on questions that now screams at us from all sides in the media, as we hear strident editorials all supporting the trendy side, as people are fired, shamed, hounded and denounced in the most public manner for things of which they might well be innocent. Those who have fallen into lockstep with this and cannot even see the grounds for questioning what is now, very obviously, the mainstream narrative, and yet who take on the mantle of ‘philosopher’ and have the sacred duty of teaching and pushing others to think critically, would cause Socrates to turn in his grave. Actually, had they lived in 4th century Athens, they would have put him there.
I have some questions for you:
1) You take all the elements you listed to be strong evidence for her racism. But any idiot knows that you can make an apparently persuasive case for something if you only consider the evidence that seems to point in one direction and ignore the pieces of evidence that point in the other direction. Strident denouncers on their high horses have combed through her life to find the evidence you mention, and they were powerfully motivated to find evidence that seems to support the ‘racist’ conclusion. Have you also looked at the evidence from her life that points in the opposite direction? No, of course you haven’t, because nobody’s combed through her life and dug that up for you. Have you even thought about how biased that makes the cherry-picked collection you’re looking at? Or are you somehow convincing yourself that these little tidbits are typical of everything this woman has ever done and said?
2) What, to you, would even count as evidence that one is *not* racist? Is there anything at all? Or is the charge of racism, the way you understand it, completely unfalsifiable (and therefore completely uninformative)?
3) What among the items you mention, in itself, is conclusive grounds for racism? Do you think that the mere fact that someone calls the police on someone who is also black can *only* be explained by the fact that the person is black and the caller is motivated by racism against black people? Are you really so dense that you can’t think of any other explanation? Are you at least consistent? Do you think that, if someone ever calls the police on a white person, it’s because the caller obviously hates white people? Or maybe you think that if anyone ever calls the police on *two* white people, some time apart, it must be because of racism against whites because, well, it happened on two occasions?
4) Do you realize how formal debates work? Do you understand that people are normally assigned positions to argue for?
5) I assume, as do all other decent people, that we should only go after someone for having a very bad character trait if it is clear that that person has that trait. Racism is a very bad character trait, and a judgment of racism should never be applied lightly. Do you agree? By the standards you are proud to hold, do you actually believe that you and others have done due diligence in ruling out other explanations, so that only racism remains? Would you be willing to have the same loose standards applied to yourself, if and when you are finally accused?
6) Finally, have you thought through how bad this looks to those who haven’t yet joined this narrow ideological circle? I know, you go on Daily Nous, the mainstream media, and your preferred Facebook and Twitter feeds see almost nothing but agreement that this is clear evidence of a horribly racist culture that can only be healed by sustained intellectual cleansing, even more aggressive affirmative action programs, a culture of even more dogged calling out and shaming for more and more offenses, and mandatory ‘diversity and sensitivity’ training in which everyone is forced to parrot and absorb the truisms of Critical Race Theory. But outside that bubble, there’s a quickly growing number of disgruntled people who, like me, were initially very much on board and now see this as spectacular overreach and cultish thinking, and who wonder: if the most egregious instances of anti-black racism are nothing more than *this*, then… maybe there isn’t as much to worry about as we had thought. Is that really the impression you want to give? Because you’re giving it the more you add fuel to these nothing incidents and show for all to see the pathetically lax epistemic standards behind charges of ‘racism’ these days. It used to be that if someone got called a racist or white supremacist by others in the philosophical community, I’d sit up, take notice, and think that there was probably something to it. But the more of these I see, and the more threads I read in which my fellow philosophers seem constitutionally capable of doubting (which really makes me wonder what even makes them philosophers), the more I find myself thinking, ‘Oh, this again’ when the next supposed outrage hits our screens. Is that the impression you want to leave us with?Report
This was pretty much the response I expected, so I’ll read my pre-prepared rebuttal: I was not taking issue with anyone who thinks that there isn’t *sufficient * evidence to conclude that this was racism. I was taking issue with anyone who thinks that there isn’t *any* evidence. I was 100% clear on that and only someone hell-bent on perpetuating this culture war would ignore this.
You were the one who shared, deliberately, a conceptually confused article. That is what I was objecting to. If you were prepared to acknowledge the article’s flaws, we might then go on to have a sane debate about epistemic standards in these cases. In fact, I already agree with you that accusations of racism are often made far too quickly, and I am absolutely willing to entertain any evidence against the racism-hypothesis (has she been seen at a BLM protest? Contributed to the NAACP? Does she have a black friend who is willing to vouch for her? Of course there is lots of possible counter-evidence!), so you might find that we have less to fight about than you seem to think. However, your entire comment revolves around yet another error in judgment, taking me to be saying something I didn’t say. You simply move the goalposts without acknowledging the errors in the piece you shared, so I won’t engage here. My initial point stands: the article is confused and gets us nowhere.Report
This is an odd, reactionary post. It’s indicative of someone not thinking about this case in isolation, but in terms of some larger social movement that seems objectionable. I think you’re mistaken; *most* people in this thread have not agreed that this is an obvious case of racism (according to upvotes). Indeed, from what I can tell, even Yale faculty and many of the constantly outraged social justice people in the profession have not even acknowledged that this event happened. So most of your fears are straw, at least for philosophers.
It’s not that those of us on the “probably racism” side haven’t considered other explanations. It’s that the other explanations are poor, and are not at all exculpatory. Take a look at Steve’s post: the other explanations he gives, to many of us, don’t justify her behavior. Desiring but unable to make tea? Someone being rude in response to a question? Seeing a stranger in your building? If I were in *any* of these situations, I would be capable of handling the situation, because that’s what adults do. It’s part of learning how to live with others. It seems reasonable to expect the same of a 43 year old woman.
No, these aren’t the *worst* cases of racism, but unless you have acquaintance with or a direct history of negative interactions with cops, people following you around in stores, teachers telling your 4 year old child that he’s going to go to jail one day (true story), these sorts of things might seem frivolous to you. This is an appeal to emotion, but it might give insight why these seemingly minor events are a big deal to so many people.Report
Are you suggesting that people consider both sides of an issue *fairly, carefully, and critically*? This is what would be needed in order to arrive at a conclusion of the highest quality. But doing so requires far too much time and effort. It is hardly feasible for most of the people commenting here, I’d bet. If we were required to spend so much time and effort before commenting, most (if not all) of us would remain silent or violate the requirement.
Perhaps you think we should remain silent. This is clearly a problematic response to what so closely resembles many prior cases of racism and injustice. Its main problems arise because it’s associated with complacency–or worse: indifference or endorsement. If, eventually, it is found that it a case of racism, but we were silent in the face of so much evidence, we appear to be insensitive (or inappropriately sensitive). Even if it’s found not to be racism, and we have been silent, we still appear to be insensitive. Since appearing insensitive is detrimental to racial progress, silence is too. Accordingly, violating the requirement most promotes racial progress.Report
Nick: okay, there is *some* evidence that she was motivated by racism, if what you mean by ‘evidence’ for S being motivated by M is just anything at all such that, if E is true, then S is even slightly more likely to be motivated by M than if E were not true.
But by that standard, the fact that I walk up the street to the north is evidence that I’m motivated by a desire to reach the North Pole.
not satire: you write, “This is an odd, reactionary post. It’s indicative of someone not thinking about this case in isolation, but in terms of some larger social movement that seems objectionable.” What an apt description of the original post!
And yes, most readers of DN seem less sanguine about the case that the student is clearly a racist, judging by the votes. But one gets a very different impression from the comments. What accounts for the fact that most of the readers feel the need to stay silent in the conversations, do you think?
I’m not justifying the decision to call in the police. As the editorial I sent along says, there are many people out there who overreact to seeing possibly uninvited strangers in their building. But the leap in logic from there to the verdict that she only called the police because she’s a racist is a huge and very convenient one (especially since it’s trendy, rewarding, and self-satisfying to call people out for being racists).
Do you really think this could never have happened if the person who decided to sleep in the common room on a different floor wasn’t black? Please! I’m white, and I’ve had people get in my face a few times for things like this. People have seen me in places I was staying in legitimately and told me I had to get out or they’d call the cops on me, even though I was just minding my own business. I don’t think highly of those people, but I didn’t fly to some confident conclusion about discrimination. I just explained the situation (though one time, the cops were called anyway). But hey, my story and many others can be ignored because they don’t fit the narrative, I guess.
Kenneth, your post says it all. You and other commenters here don’t want to take the time to find out whether there really is a basis for condemning the person for being a racist. It’s too time-consuming. But you feel entitled to come to a judgment of racism anyway. What more could you say to convince the rest of us not to take your verdicts seriously?
Why not just keep your idle speculations to yourself, if you can’t be bothered to figure out what’s going on first? Because you’re afraid of appearing insensitive. Those are your words, and they give the game away, too. You have nothing to lose by jumping on someone who’s already being on the ground being pummeled by the mob, and giving her a kick in the ribs. People might even find you to be heroic, whether she’s guilty or innocent. Who will ever know? But if you’re seen holding back, maybe the mob will start wondering whose side you’re on.
The right thing to do, if you don’t have the time to investigate, is to resist forming a judgment. It really is that simple.
Sure, there will be some cases where it’s just wrong to be silent. Not that many decades ago, black people had to wait outside restaurants as their food was made to go, since they weren’t welcome to sit indoors. Not long ago, there were clubs that really said “Whites only.” Not long ago, there were people who openly used racist epithets as part of blatantly disparaging remarks against members of those ethnicities. You see something like that, where someone is openly and blatantly racist, you can make the accusation. There’s not much else in the way of evidence to look at. But in a case like this one, when you jump in just because there’s some extremely scant ‘evidence’ and all your friends are starting a mob beating, your jumping in on the mobbing isn’t ethical or heroic. It’s just a way of being a complete asshole.Report
“Finally, have you thought through how bad this looks to those who haven’t yet joined this narrow ideological circle?”
Yeah, I’m gonna go ahead and burst your bubble there. What you take to be a matter of mere ideology is much less abstract if you’re not white. And, really, most of us don’t give nearly that many fucks about what white folks think about race (except insofar as it might lead you to do/vote for fucked up shit). But, go ahead, make it all about you folks, again (as if we need you).Report
“Are you suggesting that people consider both sides of an issue *fairly, carefully, and critically*?”
This is, I think, pretty much DN’s official comments policy!Report
@David Jones Wallace: Yes, and my guess is that if it were enforced, there wouldn’t be many comments!Report
Indeed, as those well-versed in the philosophy of perception know, that which looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, may well be only a mere rabbit and not a duck at all.Report
You’re working awfully hard to make this seem innocent. Why? Is it because the philosophy grad student is “one of our own”? Would you work that hard if the white woman had just been an engineering grad student? Should we be so protective of our own? Is this really any different from white people protecting other white people, because they are “our own”?
The part of your speculative exercise that seems the most over-protective is when you wonder whether the white woman “perceived the situation as one in which the other woman was more-or-less squatting in the common room.” Seeing students asleep in common areas is extremely common. Nobody ever thinks “oh, maybe it’s a squatter” except when the person has some sort of problematic feature. What was the feature the white woman found problematic? Um, the woman’s race. That’s the only conceivable answer in this context. And that’s racist. And then there’s the stuff about how the white woman was upset because she couldn’t make tea. Good heavens. Who calls the police because they can’t make tea?
But the main point is: why bend over backwards to make up exculpatory stories, just because the perp in this case is not just some Starbucks manager or the police, but a philosophy grad student?Report
Ummm, perhaps because one should assume everyone (phil grads, Starbuck’s managers, etc.) is innocent until proven guilty. I suggest you read Jon Ronson’s “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”.Report
I suggest you not assume I haven’t read it. “Innocent before proven guilty” has no relevance here We’re not a jury. We’re not deciding whether the white grad student should be convicted of a crime or burned at the stake. If we waited for proof of guilt we’d be unable to respond appropriately to situations like this. We’re not going to have proof. Meanwhile, folks like the black grad student are being put through traumatic encounters with the police for doing nothing but…(amazingly enough)….napping. I think reacting with indignation to apparent racism is completely appropriate–in fact, obligatory. The fact that we have imperfect information should just make us not take public shaming too far and should also keep us open to new information.Report
“The fact that we have imperfect information should just make us not take public shaming too far”.
Setting out to cause a limited amount of public shaming sounds a bit like setting out to fight a limited nuclear war. In neither case does the underlying weapon really permit that kind of calibration.Report
I don’t see the problem. It’s one thing to express my indignation at blogs like this or on twitter. It’s another thing for me to get involved in trying to get the white grad student expelled, for example. Both might be categorized as shaming (and Ronson does talk about both in his book on shaming), but there are good reasons to stop at the first. I don’t think there’s anything about shaming (the underlying weapon) that makes it inherently unlimited and uncalibrated.Report
The “unlimited and uncalibrated” bit comes from the fact (in the Internet age) that a very large number of actors are individually participating and can’t coordinate.Report
” “Innocent before proven guilty” has no relevance here We’re not a jury. We’re not deciding whether the white grad student should be convicted of a crime or burned at the stake.”
What a disgusting cop-out, no less disgusting for how commonly it’s used to try to fend off all blame for the personal and social tragedies that so often lie in wait for those who are targeted like this. And if you have read Ronson’s book and still don’t see this, then all the worse for you.
Do you have any idea how many people are hounded out of their jobs and careers, are disowned by friends and relatives, and are even driven to suicide because of this kind of vicious mobbing?
Do you even care?
The fact that these harms do not come through the justice system but rather through vigilante and collective mob action is no basis for throwing the principle of presuming innocence out the window. Quite the opposite. We don’t follow that principle because the law arbitrarily includes it. We follow it because we’re minimally decent human beings.Report
I bet it’s fewer than the number of black people who’ve but subjected to police violence against their persons just because some ridiculous white person decided that they looked suspicious while doing something perfectly normal. MLK was right about the lot of you. True freedom is to no longer needing the support of nitwits like you.Report
That’s irrelevant, JT. Nobody’s saying that black people, or any people, should be subjected to violence in order that people who could well be innocent of racism should not be mobbed as racists.
Frivolously accusing people of racism does nothing to reduce police violence against black people. All it does is antagonize more people and make the actual cause you claim to be fighting for look less serious.
Incidentally, I’ve been confronted by people in much the same way Siyonbola has when I was in a building and not recognized. I’ve also been at cafes and asked to buy something. Do you know why I wasn’t arrested? Here’s a hint: rather than try to antagonize people and have my fifteen minutes of fame after catching the thing on video and pretending I’m being persecuted, I actually left the building or bought something.
You mention MLK, but you clearly know very little about what he stood for. His vision, as he never tired of telling us, was of a world where one is judged for the content of one’s character, not the color of one’s skin. He fought against true and palpable injustice in an effort to bring about a world where color doesn’t matter. He would have been ashamed of someone like Siyonbola or the clowns from BLM, who have nothing to offer the world but an aggressive ‘poor me’ attitude and a chip on their shoulder. What a disgrace.Report
That may have been the vision, but he was right to recognise those who are on here whinging about how this incident might not be in fact problematic as obstacles rather than allies.Report
@Steve – In such cases it’s appropriate to accept the judgment of the victimized person. Persons victimized by racism are typically more expert at distinguishing instances of racial harassment from more innocuous situations than those who (for a variety of reasons) are unlikely to experience such harassment on a regular basis; just like persons victimized by sexism are typically more expert at distinguishing instances of sexual harassment from non-instances than those who (for a variety of reasons) are unlikely to experience such harassment on a regular basis.Report
One way in which this case differs from the paradigm “black while driving” or “black while sitting in Starbucks” cases is that it appears that the two people are well known to each other and live in close proximity. So this may not be the usual case of a white person calling the police because of baseless fear or suspicion of a black person. It may be a stranger, more idiosyncratic case, involving a likely complex interpersonal history and dynamic that very few people know about. So I think we should be careful not to form settled opinions too quickly about what happened in this this situation or about the grad students in question. This is not to deny that ordinarily calling the police because a fellow student has fallen asleep in the common room is a questionable thing to do, and that it may be particularly unsavory if the student is black just because of the larger pattern of how black people tend to be treated by the police.Report
People can be racist towards people they know. What point are you trying to make here?Report
I agree of course that people can be racist towards people that they know. My point was that I don’t think we know enough here to make presumptions about what role racist attitudes did or did not play in motivating the grad student to call the police. Perhaps it was the latest vindictive volley in an old beef. Or maybe it was racism. (These possibilities are not mutually exclusive). We don’t know, and I don’t think we have grounds to presume in such an atypical case. (I’m open to persuasion here). I think we can be appropriately outraged at the general pattern while keeping an open mind about the details of this particular case. It’s hard, psychologically. And it may be in tension with an ideal of solidarity with victims of racism. But I don’t as yet see better options.Report
We are, I presume, committed to racial progress. Even if we presume we do not know whether this is racism, there is still the question of whether the correct response is to fail to confidently believe that it is racism (perhaps on the grounds that, based on what we do know, it has much in common with many cases racism) *given that we are committed to racial progress. It seems to me that such failure is not the correct response.Report
We know enough to condemn the student even if we accept the (dubious) assumption that she is not racist. We know that she has called the cops on another student (who just so happened to be black, and who was a stranger to her) previously because she maybe felt entitled or ‘uncomfortable’. We know that she called the cops on another student (who just so happened to be black) because she maybe felt ‘uncomfortable’ or entitled. Even if these instances are not good evidence of racism, it is good evidence that the philosophy student has a habit of making frivolous complaints at best, and creating a hostile and unsafe environment at worst. This is abstracting away from the arguments she has made against hate speech legislation. While I in no way am saying that she should be condemned for her academic views, they are relevant evidence. It would be surprising if all of these facts were merely coincidental.Report
To “not satire”: It could be that the philosophy grad student is concerned about safety in the dorm in which she lives and is wary of people she does not recognize being in what she takes to be a secure space. Unless there is reason to think she is being more vigilant to people of color than to others, we do not have reason to think that her reporting the other student to campus security was motivated by racism. It *could* have been, but it also could have been something else.
We do not need to participate in the public shaming of this particular philosophy grad student or even to think at this stage that this particular case is clearly a case of racist bias to be concerned about racism and to fight against it.Report
You’re missing the point. *Even if* she calls the cops indiscriminately, say whenever she sees someone smile at her the wrong way or even whenever someone gives her the finger, this *still* does not mean her behavior isn’t worthy of condemnation. Reasonable adults do not behave this way. Reasonable children, even, do not behave this way. No one said anything about shaming; it is possible to admit that someone behaved badly without shaming them.
On another note, pretensions of “safety” have always been used as justification for white flight, fear of poor people and minorities, and yes, even explicit KKK-type racism for centuries.Report
Oh and, we do have reason to “think she is being more vigilant to people of color than to others”: the fact that the *only* people she has reported or called the cops on were black. What more reason do you need, other than her explicitly calling the students a racial slur before she picked up the phone?Report
Actually, not satire, we do NOT know that these are the only two cases she has ever reported. You’re making that up. Or, if you have access to evidence that hasn’t yet been released to the public, please provide that evidence.
But in the course of verifying this (something you apparently don’t care about doing), I discovered something very curious.
According to this CNN story from yesterday, the two cases [the philosophy grad student] reported have a rather interesting connection that nobody in this thread seems to have noted in the rush to judgment.
1) In the first of the two cases, in February, the first black student — Jean-Louis — alleges that he went to that residence building *in order to meet with none other than Siyonbola.*
2) After entering the building, according to Jean-Louis, he was invited onto the elevator by none other than — guess who — [the philosophy grad student], the alleged ‘racist’, who at that time clearly assumed that he had legitimate business in the building.
3) But Jean-Louis then got lost and was wandering around on the 12th floor, where [the philosophy grad student] resides. When she came out of her room much later and saw the guy from the elevator lurking around, apparently aimlessly, she became suspicious that she might have allowed an intruder up to her floor, after having trusted him enough before to invite him onto the elevator. She then called the campus police over.
4) Jean-Louis then related all this to Siyonbola, who became incensed and concluded that [the philosophy grad student] must be a racist, as she couldn’t think of any other explanation. She arrived at this psychological diagnosis of [the philosophy grad student] without ever having met her, and told the police about it.
5) Fast forward to May. For some reason, Siyonbola decided to bring her pillow and blankets out of her dormitory and take them down to the very same common room on the 12th floor where the previous incident had occurred, knowing that [the philosophy grad student] lived nearby, and to turn off the lights and go to sleep on the sofa there. [The philosophy grad student] arrived and confronted her, and Siyonbola was ready to go, filming the entire incident. Later, Siyonbola and Jean-Louis used this evidence in their campaign to get [the philosophy grad student] expelled.
Challenge: can you think of any other explanations for all this other than that [the philosophy grad student] is a crazy racist who, for some reason, invited someone from a group she hates onto her elevator and then changes her mind much later and comes back to reveal her inner, racist self?Report
As a word of friendly advice, trying to take a quasi-Socratic tone and try to turn us all into your students is probably not the most effective rhetorical strategy. Additionally, Occam’s razor is a really useful analytical device here; the fact that you have to jump through so many rhetorical hoops to defend this woman, and look at everything she does in the best possible light (even when she is acting unlawfully), while looking at everything Siyonbola does (none of which in the worst possible light, should be telling you that there’s a problem with your argument.
I would also note that I doubt very much you demand this much epistemic certainty before making decisions in other contexts, so there is something about this that you appear to be very invested in, and I’m not quite sure why.
“But Jean-Louis then got lost and was wandering around on the 12th floor, where [the philosophy grad student] resides. When she came out of her room much later and saw the guy from the elevator lurking around, apparently aimlessly, she became suspicious that she might have allowed an intruder up to her floor, after having trusted him enough before to invite him onto the elevator.”
First, the idea that she has the authority to decide whether he could enter the elevator or not is bizarre.
Second, you fail to report on this passage from the very article you insist has given you greater insight:
“Both exited on the 12th floor, where [the philosophy grad student] went her own way, and Jean-Louis, finding himself lost, texted Siyonbola, his post states. [The philosophy grad student] then reappeared, and Jean-Louis asked her for directions to the common room, which she said was the room she’d just exited. She then “blocked the Common Room’s door entrance,” according to Jean-Louis’ post.”
How is knowing where he was going an indicia of suspicion? I would also presume that as a Yale student, he has every right to enter a common room, and she has absolutely no right to bar him from doing so. Frankly, she has no right to bar anyone from the common room. She is not a representative of Yale, she is not a police officer, and she has no proprietary right over that common room other than to sit in it if she feels like it.
“Challenge: can you think of any other explanations for all this other than that [the philosophy grad student] is a crazy racist who, for some reason, invited someone from a group she hates onto her elevator and then changes her mind much later and comes back to reveal her inner, racist self?”
Your argument becomes quite fallacious here; you’re first strawmanning (racist motivation is turned to “a crazy racist”), creating an arbitrary and unnecessary bar to finding the woman acted with racial animus. What if she’s not a crazy racist, but is a racist? Or a mild racist? Does that suddenly mean she deserves no censure? Secondly, as I noted above you are assuming that the woman in question has some sort of authority to bar the gentleman from both the elevator and the common room (here, your phrase “onto her elevator” is telling).Report
Many of the truest and fiercest and most tireless protectors of the oppressed oppose hate speech legislation. Noam Chomsky and Glenn Greenwald come particularly to mind. It is a profound mistake to suggest that such opposition indicates racist attitudes. I say this entirely in abstraction from this particular incident.
I am also opposed to hate speech legislation, though I don’t have my identity wrapped up in that position and am fully open to changing my mind. In my view, this gives the powerful even more power. It not only could be but definitely would be, and already in fact is, being used to criminalize opposition to Israeli oppression and occupation, just for example. These are just the sorts of grounds on which Chomsky and Greenwald oppose such legislation. Trump’s Republican Party controls all levels of the government. In my view, advocating for hate speech legislation is an extremely serious mistake in this context in particular, though also more generally. That is a weapon the powerful are guaranteed to use to their advantage.
Maybe I’m wrong about that overall position, but I’m very confident about this, as this is my area of expertise: human socio-moral groups are designed and systematically incentivized to signal group loyalty. A primary means of doing this is through conspicuous moralistic aggression. We are also designed and incentivized to not be aware that our emotionally charged, highly confident, religious, moral, and political opinions are profoundly shaped by these forces. This goes for all socio-moral groups, every one of which is organized around around sacred values and narratives.
I believe it is almost impossible to take this basic situation too seriously or give it too much attention. Advocacy for hate speech legislation, along with accusing those who reject such legislation of racism, strongly suggests such signaling. But in my view, this diagnosis goes for very very very many other political positions nowadays, at least as much on the right as left. It is totally pervasive in modern society, especially in contexts of group conflict with moralistic punishers able to punish without incurring much if any cost.
At any rate, the idea that opposition to hate speech legislation indicates racism is wrong and pernicious. I can imagine a response in which such opposition is presented as part of an overall picture of racism, though not indicative by itself. I still think that is illegitimate, but if that is the way it is intended, an explicit note should be made to that effect. To me it is akin to putting together a picture according to which someone is likely to be an anti-Semite that includes their opposition to Israeli policy, or a terrorist that includes their view that the U.S. commits atrocities in the Middle East. I would fit these categories as well, fwiw, but am no antisemite or terrorist. In fact, I think Israeli and American policy are self-defeating in much the same way I think hate crime legislation is. I think moralistically aggressive social signaling that cannot be recognized as such propels all these and uncountably many other similar phenomena.Report
Well put, Eric.
I’m especially grateful to you for pointing to what should be obvious to everyone: that loosening the protections of free speech, due consideration before deciding on guilt, etc. will have at best short-term benefits for those of us on the political left.
If we abandon our principled support of these things, we don’t just lose our principles: we lose the future. When the pendulum swings back — and it’s odd how little attention is given to the fact that it will, and probably very soon — and those with very different sociopolitical agendas take hold of the university and other important social institutions, only a fool would think our successors won’t be at least as zealous as we on the left have been in throwing these principles out the window in their underhanded quest for power.
And what can we do then? What principles will we be able to hold them to that we haven’t allowed extremists on our side to jettison as we sat back and said nothing? What will we be able to say against them that won’t make them laugh as they say, “Hm. When you guys were in power, you thought nothing about…”
So often, debates presented here and elsewhere as left vs. right issues are, it seems to me, better understood as issues between different factions of the political left: one faction (Chomsky’s, as you say) principled and far-sighted, and the other one unprincipled and short-sighted. I hope that the tide is turning and the latter will not be the more vocal position for too much longer. We can ill afford the result.Report
“…it appears that the two people are well known to each other…”
According to the Yale police, the white student claimed she did *not* know the black student when she made the call. https://m.facebook.com/YalePolice/posts/10155462935922997Report
We do not have all relevant facts, and given this, we do not know that this is a case of racism. Still, if we are committed to racial progress, then since there is enough evidence for us to confidently believe that this is a case of racism, we should so believe (until we get sufficient contrary evidence).Report
Unless you have info that is not known to others on this thread, it is not clear that we have sufficient evidence confidently to believe that this is a case of racism. It very well could be racism, but it could be something else.
We should be very wary of piling on to an Internet shaming campaign of a particular individual who, for all that appears to have come out publicly so far, might have done nothing wrong.Report
Of course, many commenters are reluctant to regard certain facts as evidence. It does not follow from this that there is not sufficient evidence.
To have a confident belief that someone had treated another unjustly is not to “pile on to an internet shaming campaign.” So, you can confidently believe this is a case of racism without shaming anyone.Report
Yes, we have plenty of evidence.Report
For those cautioning against assuming racial bias, I just want to point out that according to news reports, this is not the first time this student has called the police on a black Yale graduate student for being in that building on the grounds that a black student appeared to be an intruder.
But in any case, Kenneth and DW are right that these things can be separated.Report
At least prima facie, there’s good reason to keep the practical bit of our decision theory (“what should I do?”) separated from the epistemic bit (“what should I believe?”)
Even if you don’t buy that separation (it can be challenged), it’s not clear to me why I should (even in the practical sense of “should”) have a higher credence in a given event being racist *given that I am committed to racial progress* than I would if I were not so committed. (Is the idea that false positives are less dangerous than false negatives?)Report
Thanks for the question. I realize that the claim will be controversial. Anyway, this is what I was thinking (and I’d be happy to get your thoughts about this): If we increase credence in this being a case of racism, we are being merely *slightly* epistemically risky. Increasing credence is *significantly* more conducive to racial progress than doubting (or failing to believe) without sufficient contrary evidence. Indeed, such doubting is likely very detrimental to racial progress. So, if we are committed not only to knowledge but also to racial progress, the balance of our reasons favors increasing credence over doubting. If we aren’t so committed–i.e. we are committed to only knowledge–then we might not countenance reasons concerning what’s conducive to racial progress. If not, the balance of reasons may favor doubting over increasing credence. In this way, whether one has a commitment to racial progress can and should affect credence in this being a case of racism.Report
I can see that as at least defensible. I don’t think *my* thoughts on this are very sophisticated, beyond what was in the previous comment, but Rima Basu at USC just finished a very interesting PhD on the subject; maybe drop her a note if you’re interested in following up.Report
Thanks for the info. I believe Mark Schroeder has views related to this. It’s certainly interests me. I might drop each of them a note.Report
Kenneth and David,
In considering whether preferring belief to suspension of judgment (as opposed to action, like further investigation) in unclear cases is conducive to racial progress, we surely also need to consider the precedent effect of allowing moral and political considerations to influence the beliefs we form about guilt or innocence. We might look with favour on that habit so long as those doing the believing are people we approve of, and those they are doing in in the interests of are those we deem worthy. But once the precedent (custom, habit, reflex — let’s remember the real world) is set can we control who exercises it? It is a precedent that can just as easily be used against black people as in their interests. Can we be sure that once that genie is out of the bottle we can confine it to the good causes, and to private conversations, or social media, and be sure it won’t become the norm for prosecutors, judges and juries? It might seem a tempting way to go in various local circumstances, but on a longer and broader view, I think its potential implications are pretty chilling. Let’s not go there. (Acknowledgment: I think David was making a point rather similar to this in one of his earlier posts.)Report
@Andrew Gleason: yes, FWIW that’s my view – but I wanted to acknowledge that there are interesting and sophisticated counter-arguments (especially as I don’t really work on these issues).Report
@Andrew Gleason: I appreciate the point. It is worthy of serious attention if there matter is ever to be settled.Report
I see I typed “Gleason”, not “Gleeson”, for some reason; apologies.Report
My very brief background: Non-Philosopher here, but regular visitor to Daily Nous. Also, I’m not a white male (but I am a male). I’ve always been interested in Philosophy for a number of years. Maybe it’s because I like to think about many things in life, question everything and arguing/debating. I’ve thought, off an on for a few years, about pursuing an under-grade degree in Philosophy. I like to think that studying Philosophy will help me become a better thinker and person (not necessarily in that order).
What follows is my two cents. I hear Philosophers are supposed to be charitable and polite when arguing with each other, so here goes:
On the White Yale Student (WYS) who called the cops:
I found a few articles online with background info on the incident, as well as the WYS in particular. In one of those articles, quoted on heavy.com, WYS argued for the pro slavery movement during a school debate ages ago. The key take away is that she felt that a small number of slaves might have wanted to remain slaves (they are provided with food, shelter, clothing), so who are we (society I guess) to tell them not to want to be slaves and to want to be “free” and tossed into the world with nothing? However, years later, she also went on to criticize Muslim women who wore face-covering veils and argues for women’s emancipation/rights, et cetera. But, as I’ve heard in the news and read in various places, there are some Muslim women choose the wear the veil.
I guess what I am saying is this: if she argues that maybe there are a small amount of slaves who wanted to remain as slaves, and that we should leave them be, then why would she have an apparent issue with Muslim women who willingly and knowingly choose to wear the veil? Isn’t this a bit hypocritical? It’s their choice after all.
On Philosophers knowing better:
I must admit, I’m a bit of a romantic here. Falling for the whole wisdom of Philosophers and Philosopher Kings and what not. Persons on this post have commented that she was just a Philosophy student and doesn’t know better. I disagree, this woman holds multiple degrees and is very educated (who knows if that makes her intelligent and who even knows what intelligence means, is it context dependent?). Anyhow, from my brief readings on well known historical philosophers, there have been a few that have been controversial. Was Plato not a supporter of Eugenics? I’ve also read that Kant was racist. I want to make clear that I am not defending WYS. I am trying to understand why we demand and expect more from Philosophers when it comes to certain things, but we seem to forget that Philosophers are human. Thus, they are subject to emotional and irrational behavior. As such, why put them on a pedestal? Let me close by asking this: Maybe the “perfect” Philosopher will be an AI-based one. Free from emotion and irrationality.
Thanks for reading and for your patience.Report
On a completely unrelated note, I’ve never quite understood why people are so quick to create a dichotomy between ‘reason’ and ’emotion’, as if being free of the latter was a good thing. Presumably, the dichotomy is between acting on what we have most or better reason to do vs. acting on emotion, independently of what we have most or better reason to do (perhaps a sort of weakness of will in some instances). But, there are plenty of instance where the supposed line between ‘reason’ and ’emotion’ is blurred. For example, loving my daughter seems to me an emotional behavior. But, upon reflection also seems like something I have good reason to do. It is my responsibility as her father to take care of her, independently of any emotional attitudes. Is my fatherly behavior rational or emotional? It seems to me that being a good father and caring for my daughter is what I have best reason to do, and something I have a strong emotional drive to do as well. The two are in-line with each other. Here, that I have certain emotional responses might just be the most rational thing, as it moves me to do what I have best reason to do.Report
Briefly and belatedly in defense of Justin’s naming policy: I don’t really have much of a view about whether the student he left unnamed should or should not have been named, when assessed in isolation. But I think the norm: “Do not name any junior member of the profession in reporting on a hot-button issue without their consent” has a lot of advantages over the norm: “Work out on a case-by-case basis whether or not to name a junior member of the profession in reporting on a hot-button issue”.Report
It seems like better behavior should be expected from just basic human decency. But what evidence is there that professional philosophy leads to living better lives or that thought experiments specifically are effective tools for fighting biases? Most evidence seems to point strongly in the opposite direction.Report
I think it’s very appropriate to name the accuser because she probably wants others to find her and the videos she posted, so she can raise attention to the issue.Report
To ‘not my real name’s last comment (can’t reply):
“However, if I learned that she had sometimes seen unknown white people walking around in the same hallway, or sleeping in the common room, and not confronted those people, *and* there were nothing else that would explain the different treatment (such as her knowing for a fact that there are no black people living in the building, which would give her a reasonable basis for thinking these people were intruders), then I would assume that racial discrimination is the most plausible explanation.”
What you’re saying is almost reasonable, but the problem is that this is ignoring context; all of these events are happening in a dorm. Students have friends, they have relatives (who may be of a different race), they study with classmates, etc. It’s entirely reasonable to suppose that she *has* seen other strangers in the dorm, most likely white, given the demographics at Yale. For this reason, it is still less reasonable to assume that (if there are no black people living in the building) the students are *intruders* rather than *friends* or *classmates*. The question of race still remains: were there an Asian person in an all white dorm, for example, would you automatically think that they are an intruder, instead of a friend of someone in the dorm?Report
Well, *I* wouldn’t think that someone was an intruder just because I hadn’t seen the person before.
I think, in general, that it would take much more to get me to freak out that someone I didn’t know was an intruder in a big building. I mean, I would follow the rules and not let someone in the front door if he or she didn’t have a key or hadn’t been buzzed in by someone. But as far as I’m concerned, if someone is already in the building and isn’t acting in a particularly sketchy way or threatening someone, I’d give him or her the benefit of the doubt and assume good intentions.
But [the philosophy grad student] acted differently in a couple of cases. We know that [the philosophy grad student] has a tendency, when seeing people she doesn’t recognize acting in odd ways (sleeping in the common room with a blanket and pillows from somewhere, while all residents have their own dorm rooms, or wandering around the halls for what seems to have been something like ten or fifteen minutes), she confronts them and, if they don’t leave, she calls the police. What’s the best explanation of that? Well, one explanation is just that, as she says, she feels very insecure when random people who don’t have proper business in the residence are lurking around. Another explanation is that she was really just motivated by racism against black people. How do we differentiate between those options, leaving aside others? We do know that she originally invited the first of these two people into an elevator with her, which is really out of keeping with the ‘wild hatred/terror of black people’ hypothesis. If she regularly ignored white or Asian people who did exactly the same sorts of things without confronting them, then that would be support for the racism hypothesis. But we’ve got nothing there.Report
Also to ‘not my real name’ (can’t reply):
I care about the facts, but I obviously don’t have endless amounts of time. It’s not crazy to form a belief based on the information given, with the expectation that this belief will be subject to revision. In fact, this is pretty standard. I’ve already considered another explanation in other posts: that she is, for whatever reason, overly sensitive about strangers in the dorm. As I’ve already said, if it comes out that she has called the cops on a dozen people, most non-black, this is still obviously unreasonable. Even if her behavior isn’t the result of racism, she is still creating a hostile environment. It’s a dorm, and strangers come in and out for all sorts of reasons. So I’d still expect either a recommendation to counseling services, or for her to be moved out of the dorm. If this does end up happening, I have no problem saying that she isn’t racist, but has other issues. But for all the evidence we have *now*, it seems like she probably is.
I also don’t think that [the philosophy grad student] (or anyone) needs to be a “crazy racist” to be prejudiced, or that she has to *hate* black people. Her apparent discomfort with black people could just be that she is more likely to view a black person as an intruder (or maybe dishonest) despite their testimony that they were there to visit a friend. Merely wandering around isn’t good enough reason to think that someone is up to no good, in my lights, especially if they are of university age, dress like other students, have a backpack, etc. Also, your rendition of the second incident makes it seem as if Siyonbola was waiting to make a grievance, when from what I saw, she didn’t start filming until *after* [the philosophy grad student] started taking pictures of her.Report
Just a remark from the peanut gallery as folks file out of the building–looks to me like a lot of what was said could have been better said to keep the conversation going. I don’t think anyone here was close to solving the race question in the United States, or figuring out how to keep assholes from swinging bike locks at each other. But this was a chance to have a more careful discussion about the stuff we’re facing and I don’t see that a lot of that discussion happened (notwithstanding some powerful testimonials).Report
Will you say which of the comments are the “powerful testimonials”?Report
Sure, I had in mind things like Prime’s comment at May 10, 7:08 pm and some of the exchanges beginning here:
Sorry, this is the comment that I’d had in mind:
The considerations Prime raises, together with the fact that the grad student apparently has a bit of history with Ms. Siyonbola and her boyfriend, provide an opening for recalibrating how we anticipate the judgments of blame and praise we come to in situations like this. To bring that off we’d have to be more favorably disposed toward understanding one another, however, and given the state of race in the U.S. today it’s no surprise we’re finding it hard to get along. Still, one might have hoped for better from a community of philosophers.Report
I spoke too soon! The exchange between Eric Campbell and Justin Kalef raise important concerns about the tactics on display in these kinds of situations. Justin’s assessment here is worth taking seriously:
“So often, debates presented here and elsewhere as left vs. right issues are, it seems to me, better understood as issues between different factions of the political left: one faction (Chomsky’s, as you say) principled and far-sighted, and the other one unprincipled and short-sighted. I hope that the tide is turning and the latter will not be the more vocal position for too much longer. We can ill afford the result.”
I for one would like to see more people who profess to be from the political left responding to concerns like these that people from all over the political spectrum have been raising privately for years and more publicly of late.
And Hopeless Misanthrope writes:
“OTOH, it is a perfectly rational inference that someone who, say, has a history of calling the cops on black students who have every right to be someplace (and not on white students who are there) is a racist.”
Sure, depending on what collateral information is available. A dozen cases where only black people who had no other relationship to the accuser were targeted is a better basis for drawing that inference than a dozen cases only two of which involved black people and where all of the people targeted had some prior negative interaction with the accuser. The problem is, we’ve learned over the last two weeks that the student who had compus police called on him in the earlier episode is the boyfriend of the student targeted in this case, and there was some altercation among the three of them at that time. Furthermore, the student has a history of engagement with social-justicey causes! If it turned out the philosophy student has a history of belligerent interaction with people she disagrees with, and of using institutional mechanisms like the police to target people irrespective of race, then that inference is no longer perfectly rational.
And of course it’s also possible that she’s a raving racist, we can’t rule that out. But for the purposes of responding to Hopeless Misanthrope’s remark, let’s set aside whether the philosophy student in this situation is a racist in her heart of hearts, or has racist attitudes, or is a willing or unwilling participant in a system of racism, etc. Instead, let’s focus on the principles of reasoning that appear to be underwriting the view that in this situation we can be sure that this philosophy student is racist. I would like to know what basis we have to shame not only the student (as justin Weinberg does at the very beginning by framing the situation as he has) but anyone who questions the racism-narrative (as JT does when he or she characterizes those questioning the racist-narrative as ‘whinging’ obstacles). For the judgment that we should not, or at least that we should be more cautious about how we do so, is based on principles of justice that I thought liberalism of every stripe accepted: a willingness to suspend judgmetn until evidence has been adequately gathered and assessed, and a default position that a person accused of a wrong is to be treated as innocent until such time as guilt has been established.
On that last point, it is sometimes suggested that because social shaming networks and institutional tribunals of the sort put into place under recent interpretations of Title IX legislation are not courts of law, they do not need to abide by norms that liberals have been fighting for since at least the English Bill of Rights. But at the same time we are seeing people use social and institutional programs directed at causing grevious personal and professional harm to anyone found ‘guilty’ by these extra-legal tribunals. Individually those tendencies might not be a problem. And of course we can each of us come to whatever judgment we think is warranted when we’ve assessed the evidence ourselves. But In the age of big data the stain one imparts to another from socially mobilizing a verdict of guilt in a situation like this is as harmful to that person’s life prospects as any legal verdict or incarceration might be.
So it is no defense of the social and institutional denuding of these norms that the mechanisms of socially determining guilt do not operate within the framework of a court of law. For it is precisely because we think these principles are so important that we enshrine them in our legal courts. The attempt to do an endrun around them looks to me to be deeply illiberal. I’m open to hearing otherwise, and I’d really like to see someone convinced of the justice of these kinds of shenanigans offer a defense. But right now I’m left with the impression that Eric Campbell and Justil Kalef are right.
Finally, let me emphasize that I realize these issues are fraught with all sorts of complexities that someone from my standpoint isn’t going to appreciate. So I say all of this with that in mind. But we have to be willing to talk about these things. And my experience has been that most people are–I had a great conversation this weekend about race, community, and social presentation with a group of Botswanan medical students while getting groceries for a barbeque at a Czech grocery store. We were frank and honest, and I’m convinced we all were made better people simply by having the conversation. It’s in that spirit that I’ve said what I have here.Report
“But for the purposes of responding to Hopeless Misanthrope’s remark, …”
Actually I was not responding to the specifics of this case but to other people’s comments about general cases of inferring racist behavior from non racist forms of protest and using a generic example and I did not give any identifying info to point to it specifically.
I have no idea if the white student at Yale is racist and behaved that way toward the woman. I do think there is very good prima facie evidence that she behaved very despicably but racism is often dealing with interior motives which is very hard to identify.Report