Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Priceless Irony: Right-Wing Darling John Lott Unintentionally Demonstrates the Relationship Between Symbolic Racism and Gun Ownership

As I discussed here"Racism, Gun Ownership and Gun Control: Biased Attitudes in US Whites May Influence Policy Decisions" is receiving an obligatory response of protest and complaint by the Right-wing media.

John Lott is a darling of the Gun Right. They have called out their champion to defend the honor of the cause against the suggestion that white racial resentment is related to attitudes about guns. Although Lott's research on guns and crime has been thoroughly refuted, and his falsifying of data called out many times, he remains a hero for those who make the erroneous argument that "more guns equals less crime".

At first, I found it puzzling that a person whose research has been debunked would be chosen as the flag bearer for a cause. Then I remembered that contemporary conservatism also embraces pseudo historian David Barton, supports Birtherism and other conspiranoid thinking, believes in creationism, and that global warming is a myth. From that perspective, John Lott is in good company.

He is a very accomplished and highly skilled quantitatively trained social scientist who had a starred career until his questionable statistics and data were exposed. This gives Lott the ability to use quantitative tools as a means of presenting truth claims in a disingenuous manner.

For example, on his own website, Lott runs some models that would seem to directly contradict the findings in "Racism, Gun Ownership and Gun Control: Biased Attitudes in US Whites May Influence Policy Decisions".

[We have a wide readership here on WARN. Hopefully, some of you with the necessary bonafides will take a look at Lott's math and see if it passes muster. To my eyes, there are some curious assumptions being made about how symbolic racism on the part of non-whites would relate to their gun attitudes. Lott also seems to be misrepresenting Kerry O’Brien, Walter Forrest, Dermot Lynott, and Michael Daly's arguments. 

There is also a theoretical puzzle too: if one is misrepresenting the concept known as symbolic racism, then could the same person also be discounting how yes, there are people of color who have internalized white racism? And that they are going to be even more "racist" against blacks than whites who also exhibit symbolic racism?]

Lott has taken this data as the core for an opinion piece on the Fox News website. While "Are you a racist if you own a gun?" is ostensibly about the aforementioned research on gun policy and white racial attitudes, it quickly veers into an object lesson in symbolic racism.

The irony is wonderful.

In an editorial which suggests that the research on the relationship between white racism and attitudes about guns is "piss poor research", John Lott uses the very logic of white racial resentment and white victimology to make his claims.

He writes:
So how is racism measured? Well, you are apparently “racist” if you don't agree that the legacy of slavery still has a great impact on how blacks are faring today. After all, slavery was abolished 158 years ago. 
Besides, blacks were doing relatively better on many dimensions, such as family stability, during the early 1960s than today.
Of course, people might disagree with these points, but that doesn’t mean that they are racist.
OK, so conservatives are more likely to own guns than liberals (big surprise there), and they are more likely to believe that people are more responsible for how well they do in life than something that happened to their ancestors over a century and a half ago.
These attitudes and beliefs which minimize black suffering, the connections between slavery, Jim and Jane Crow, and life chances in the present, and advance the "blacks fail because of bad culture" thesis are standard measures for modern racism.

Lott also manages to include some standard Right-wing talking points about the evils of "big government" and those "lazy" "liberal" academics:
"Ironically, O’Brien told an Australian newspaper: “the freezing of government funding for any social research associated with guns since the late 1990s had effectively ‘suppressed’ information on the subject.”
If his own study is an example of the quality of the academic research the government would fund, we are indeed better served not wasting taxpayer dollars on it.
But a more serious answer is that I was able to put together the data used in their paper in a couple hours. Academics across the world are being paid to do research. It is part of their job.
If someone teaches only six hours a week during the school year, how hard is it to find time for research? 
I have done the largest studies on crime and I never had to receive a grant from the federal government to do my research. 
There is another problem with the federal government doling out funds for research. Politicians just cannot separate politics from the money hand out. They aren’t bribing researchers, but they favor researchers who are likely to agree with them. 
Disappointingly, none of the media coverage on this paper even bothered asking other academics to critique these claims.  
The notion that gun owners must be racist appears to fit journalists’ worldview so well it probably never dawned on them that this research was fatally flawed."
Symbolic racism is the air that contemporary conservatism lives and breathes in; this is so normalized that white racial resentment has become the de facto Lingua Franca for the Right.  

John Lott's editorial at Fox News is one more example of this phenomena.


John Lott said...

1) Since Media Matters won't post responses to their attacks on their website, here are some responses to the link that you posted.

Responses to other Media Matters points are available here:

2) I didn't make any new assumptions about symbolic racism. I just used their measure and used it in regressions explaining gun ownership by blacks or nonwhites. The same relationship existed for non-whites and blacks as was found for whites. I would suggest that calls into question whether their measure is actually measuring racism.

3) I did not "minimize black suffering, the connections between slavery, Jim and Jane Crow." My point was whether you don't believe that slavery has a great impact on how well individual blacks are doing today that doesn't make you a racist. The point mentioned in note #2 shows that blacks and non-whites who also don't believe that slavery has such a great impact are similarly more likely to own guns. Are those groups also racist against blacks?

4) As someone who has spent most of his life in academia and done the largest studies on crime, I am not particularly sympathetic to academics demanding yet more money. Academics are generally very well paid and they have plenty of time to do research. That point is true of both liberal and conservative academics and I never make the claim that it is liberal academics who are lazy nor do I say that any one is "lazy." I simply say that they have plenty of time and resources to do research without additional taxpayer money. They already get a lot of money from taxpayers.

chauncey devega said...

Speak his name and he shall appear. Thank you. I appreciate the dialog.

In your rebuttal you did question what measures of symbolic racism as applied to blacks and non-whites would tell us about a hypothesis regarding the role of symbolic racism, guns, and ownership among that cohort.

And in your editorial you did offer up a pretty textbook example of symbolic racism in practice--denying the connection and historical legacy of slavery to the present. Also, why did you feel a need to talk about black family structures--that too is a connection to the "blacks have bad culture" hypothesis that is central to the symbolic racism model.

This is an interesting puzzle, i.e. how do we understand people of color who have internalized racism? Do they then act more "racist" than whites in the same cohort. I would suggest that the religious convert who is more radical and fundamentalist than those born into the faith would fit that model. Clarence Thomas, and other black conservatives provide much ammunition for those people of color who actually do the work of advancing white supremacy and white privilege.

Hopefully, someone will chime in who has done research on that question. I would hate to do a blind jstor or ssrc search looking for those terms without the bigger context.

"I would suggest that calls into question whether their measure is actually measuring racism."

The literature on racial attitudes is pretty clear that symbolic racism constitutes a new version of white racial animus for a "colorblind age". As you know, there was/is debate among some who want to separate out "principled conservatism" from measures of racism, i.e. one can be against "big government" but not necessarily motivated by racial animus.

However, we have repeatedly seen that those connections among racial attitudes by "principled conservatives" are pretty intertwined with modern racism both in terms of the disparate impact of the policies they advocate, and the deeper connections between bias and political attitudes more generally.

In your rebuttal you suggest that the authors were pretty fast and loose with their model and theory building, not including certain variables, measures of cohort effects, etc. In the piece the address this as follows:

"...This study examined for the first time whether racism is related to gun ownership and the opposition to gun control in US whites. The results support the hypothesis by showing that greater symbolic racism is related to increased odds of having a gun in the home and greater opposition to gun control, after accounting for all other explanatory variables.

It is particularly noteworthy that the relationship between symbolic racism and the gun-related outcomes was maintained in the presence of conservative ideologies, political affiliation, opposition to government control, and being from a southern state, which are otherwise strong predictors of gun ownership and opposition to gun reform."

How is this insufficient for the new model you suggest? I am honestly curious.

John Lott said...

1) Lazy and not spending their time on that particular task are two different things.
2) While many academics do indeed have large research grants from their universities, the point that I am making is that to do most academic research on crime you need a computer and a research assistant. These aren't big hard science projects, and they are already getting paid as part of their salaries to do research.
3) I never said that slavery's legacy doesn't effect blacks today. The definition of racism used in this paper is that you don't believe that it has a great effect on how well blacks are doing today. I would think that there is a big difference there.
4) As to what constitutes "racism," I am just using the measure that these authors used. I am not using anything else. The problem is that there measure of racism predicts gun ownership by non-whites and blacks as well as whites and thus leads me to believe that they are picking up something other than racism. The response to the quote that you have at the end of you reply is whether you believe their measure of racism. If you do, you have to explain why blacks who also don't think that the legacy of slavery has a great effect on how well blacks are doing today are also more likely to own guns.

chauncey devega said...

" If you do, you have to explain why blacks who also don't think that the legacy of slavery has a great effect on how well blacks are doing today are also more likely to own guns."

If they have internalized such a narrative, perhaps that is an indicator of internalized racism? As you most certainly know given your expertise, the puzzle of gun ownership is a complex one. Maybe some of those black gun owners are drawing on an understanding in the black community about guns, citizenship, and self-reliance in the face of white racial terrorism?

Maybe others are black conservatives, who have internalized white racism, and are trying to "out white conservative" the racially resentful conservatives who are their ideological kin?

Could the slavery variable be a strong proxy variable for symbolic racism generally? And maybe blacks who have rejected against all available facts and evidence the impact of slavery on contemporary society, are systematically different cases? An interesting puzzle for sure.

John Lott said...

Could they be conservative blacks? Sure, that seems plausible. But do you really want to argue that you measure of racism is believing that the legacy of slavery, something that ended 158 years ago, has a great effect on how well individual blacks are doing today? So a black who only thinks that the legacy of slavery has a moderate effect or a relatively small effect on how well an individual black is doing is racist? You might think that these conservative blacks have accepted the racist claims, but another alternative is that they think that honestly believe that the legacy of slavery has only a moderate effect on how well they are doing. For example, the destruction of the black family didn't begin to occur until the 1960s, about 100 years after slavery ended. Do you think that 60 years of affirmative action and other programs haven't offset the effects of slavery to some extent so that the remaining legacy effect of slavery is less than great?

The existing paper indicates that these results should just appear for whites. At this point, even by their own arguments, the data rejects their claims.

chauncey devega said...

The "destruction of the black family" talking point is a new one for the Right and utterly disingenuous given how neo liberal economics, deindustrialization, hostility to targeted programs to help black and brown people, the Southern Strategy, and the Right's war on the War show no love or affection or care and concern for people of color.

One has to talk about that data point--the black family was "destroyed" in many ways by slavery and alternative family arrangements, kinship networks, and yes active efforts to reunite families during slavery and freedom.

I would suggest that a black person who parrots the black conservative slavery doesn't matter talking point in an environment w. clearly definable and readily seen examples of institutional racism and day-to-day racism is delusional on man levels. Yes, black people are "conservative" on many measures, but the brand of Thomas, Sowell, Cain, Peterson, black conservatives are not part of the black intellectual tradition as I and others would define it. Other very smart folks who I respect would disagree.

"Do you think that 60 years of affirmative action and other programs haven't offset the effects of slavery to some extent so that the remaining legacy effect of slavery is less than great?'

We have not had 60 years of affirmative action defined as robust interventions to deal w. white racism in the labor market, housing segregation, and the aftermath of Jim and Jane Crow.

Affirmative action--meaning an "affirmative action" to deal w. racism in hiring and schools--was a blip on the radar.

It is still a fixation by the White Right, even though white people, white men in particular have been the greatest single beneficiaries of "unearned advantage" in the history of the U.S. As you likely know, Katznelson has put in real work on that issue.

Moreover, from Reagan forward even the very benign and modest affirmative action plans have been under assault because of an Orwellian narrative of "reverse racism". Silly stuff actually; sad that so many have been duped into such sophistry.

Early affirmative action programs, and hiring by the State helped to create the black middle class--a group that has been devastated by the Great Recession, and as a people, black folks have about 10 cents for 2.00 or so in wealth that whites have. That is a legacy of slavery, Jim and Jane Crow, and the destruction of black wealth creation opportunities and intergenerational wealth by the racial state.

That is not even including the racial bias in the criminal "justice" system against people of color and the poor.

The authors are focused on white people, and their relationship to symbolic racism. Racism is prejudice plus power. Black "racism" is an oxymoron and a special case which demands further study. I am sure folks have done work on internalized white racism and public opinion and symbolic racism on the part of people of color.

As the authors imply, I am simply not sure that a model of white racism would hold because of different theoretical and conceptual priors if applied to black people.

There is some interesting work on how those same attitudes are applied by people of color who are not black against the latter. Predictably, they too have learned the lesson that to be "American" means to be racially hostile to black Americans and to express racial animus towards them.

John Lott said...

1) Please let's make an agreement not to question people's motives (e.g., that they are "disingenuous"). I hope that no one thinks that I do it, and I don't think that it adds much to the conversation.

2) As to the disintegration of the black family after the early 1960's, Tom Sowell was a professor of mine, and the discussion about the impact of the family is an old one, something that he and other economists were predicting the welfare system would have on poor families as far back as the 1960s. It was one of the reasons that Milton Friedman pushed changes to the welfare system back in the late 1960s. It is hard to argue that this is disingenuous when conservative economists were warning about this from the very beginning.

3) The authors argue that their measure of racism is applicable to whites, not others. Yet, they only show the regression results for whites. I downloaded the Stanford data and reran their regressions for blacks and non-whites.

Thanks for the discussion, but I don't have more time for this right now.

chauncey devega said...

I appreciate your time. Hopefully you will chime in again in the future. It would be great to chat some more.

1. Yes, there are many people, as you know, exposed by their deeds and actions, who are disingenuous--especially in regards to issues about race, politics, and the very profitable hustle that is being a white racism denier in America. If you are advocating for the policies that are causing that very problem you identity and lament then yes, you are disingenuous. How else would you describe them?

2. "The authors argue that their measure of racism is applicable to whites, not others."

See my above comments on racism, whiteness, and power. Yes, the authors are correct. Racism as a social phenomena as applied to whites in this society would be a different one as applied to people of color. This is a very basic construct validity issue. We need to think about how such models apply to people of color.

3. Point 2. Sowell was a very good economist until he figured out the writing for worldnetdaily white libertarian white supremacist hustle that is hating on black people for profit.

I know some folks who have traveled in his circles, and know him personally, that have said he is brilliant. No doubt---when he is dealing in his own wheelhouse.

He is a great example of a black man doing the work of white supremacy in the present.

Unfortunately as his shtick now is supporting the White Right's racism against people of color.

Friedman has also made some very troubling comments about the Civil Rights movement, the rights of black Americans, etc.

A legendary economist. Of course. Would anyone envy his career? Damn straight!

Some type of racial progressive or defender of the full citizenship rights of non-whites? Doubtful.

Libertarianism, as articulated in the post civil rights era, is a power force for white supremacy as it allows the assertion by whites, the dominant in group, that their "rights" can be asserted over and against those of non-whites.

White libertarians in the Tea Party GOP also oppose the Civil Rights Movement, the Civil Rights Act, etc.

We cannot forget how they are on the wrong side of history.

Bryan Ortez said...

Great read this morning, comments included. Yesterday your post on this study caught me in ignorance. I have never heard the phrase 'symbolic racism' so I looked it up quickly. I think there are a number of things that can be discussed further from what I have read on the wikipedia entry on symbolic racism.

Here is what wikipedia highlights from a Sears and Henry about symbolic racism:

1. Racial prejudice and discrimination no longer exists.
2. Any Black-White differences in economic outcomes is a result of Black people’s lack of motivation to work hard.
3. Black people’s anger over inequality is unjustified since they are unwilling to work to get what they want.
4. Black people seek special favors rather than working to get ahead.
5. Relative to White people, Black people have been getting more economically than they deserve.

How these belief patterns fit into a white supremacist mindset as well as a simple conservative position on Affirmative Action and other programs designed to alleviate racial inequalities can be found in white supremacist circles.

Here, an avowed white supremacist echoes these sentiments:
"For the most part, it seems many American racialists believe that the waves of Mestizo immigrants, combined with blacks, given the advantages of the federal government, will swarm every nook and cranny of this fine land and turn it into a big coffee stain on the map."

When he says, "given the advantages of the federal government" what he is saying relates essentially to elements 2, 3, 4, and 5.

Further, these sources pander to the white fear of black racism that Thomas Sowell is very well known for. They spread news items which decry a pandemic of black on white hate crimes which further serve to spread fear of blacks as a cultural phenomenon.

See also this piece by the Council of Conservative Citizens on non-white genetic predisposition to violence.

I remember reading some old saying about how the Marines were the most violent, fearless, shameless, toughest, roughest bunch of men the world has ever known. I keep telling a friend of mine these conservatives act as if white people are perfect. I hope one day these people can see the type of hate-mongering they are driving into the American psyche.

Nameless Thinker said...

Wow, just wow. The article was a great read but, man what a mental jousting in the comments below. I give John Lott credit for coming to what the right most likely considers enemy territory and defending himself. I think the both of you had a spirited, yet respectful dialog on the subject. I don't think I can add anything to this conversation but, here are some things I learned.

1. Like Bryan Ortez I too knew nothing of symbolic racism. I googled it, read the wikipedia entry, and now I'm up to speed. I think.

2. It seems like the belief that slavery has no lasting effects being felt by blacks today hinges on the supposed dysfunction of the black family.

3. Black families had it better during slavery and Jim Crow until those lefties got them jazzed up on free love and civil rights in the evil 60's.

4. Today's black dysfunction has nothing to do with past struggles. It's the result of...culture? Genetics? Invisible Negro hating fairies?

chauncey devega said...

I appreciated his dialogue. I was not surprised by how he kept signalling back to the basic fundamentals of symbolic racism. He also does this in a recent editorial on Trayvon Martin and why neighborhood watch people should be allowed to carry guns.

Brilliant and dangerous intellectually on the gun stuff; not so great on his understanding of race and politics.

chauncey devega said...

And think about how the CCC is not too different from what is routinely said by the Tea Party GOP.

Bryan Ortez said...

That's how I think of it. I bring it up to conservatives, they don't appreciate it.