Posts Tagged ‘racism’

What Do You DO When an Algorithm Discriminates Based on Race? In the Trump Administration You Protect the Algorithm

August 23, 2019 Comments off

The NYTImes’ Emily Badger wrote an article on the new, subtle method of housing discrimination: algorithms. In her recent Upshot article titled “Who’s to Blame When Algorithms Discriminate” she describes how bankers and real estate agents use algorithms to reinforce segregated housing patterns and deny African Americans an equal opportunity to get decent housing. The way HUD pushed back against these in the past was to develop rules that made it more difficult to claim innocence when “disparate impact” occurred. She writes:

Federal law prohibits not just outright discrimination, but also certain policies and decisions that have a “disparate impact” on groups protected by civil rights laws. It may be illegal, in other words, to design a rental app that has the effect of excluding minorities, even if no one meant to discriminate against them…

Housing discrimination today is largely a matter of such cases: ones where there is no racist actor, no paper trail of intent to discriminate, but where troubling disparities emerge between different classes of people… 

“People don’t just say the things they used to say,” said Myron Orfield, a law professor at the University of Minnesota who directs the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity there.

But some statistical patterns speak just as loudly.

“A black household that makes $167,000 is less likely to qualify for a prime loan than a white household that makes $40,000,” Mr. Orfield said, citing analysis of public mortgage data by the institute. “That looks funny. What the banks say in these cases is, ‘It’s the credit histories, and our models explain the differences.’ But you can’t look at those models. They’re proprietary.”

The Obama administration wrote rules that placed the onus for proving non-discrimination on the loaner or renter. Unsurprisingly, the Trump administration is taking a different view:

The Department of Housing and Urban Development published a proposed rule on Monday significantly raising the bar for housing discrimination claims that rely on such evidence…

By raising the bar for such claims, the new rule would make it harder to hold banks accountable if their underwriting algorithms repeatedly deny mortgages to seemingly qualified black families, or if city zoning laws that make no mention of race still have the effect of racially segregating neighborhoods.

Fair housing advocates see these new rules as onerous and undercutting the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the guidelines that have been in place since then.

“The problem that we have is that more and more, industry players are relying on artificial intelligence,” said Lisa Rice, the president of the National Fair Housing Alliance. “They’re relying on machine learning. They’re relying on algorithmic-based systems for more and more of the functions of the housing market.”

Online ads for rental housing are targeted in ways that mean, for example, that African-American would-be tenants may never see them. Decisions are based on credit scores that perceive families who use payday lenders — who are more likely to be African-American — as having no credit at all.

“We’re just learning what the impacts are of these things,” said Greta Byrum, co-director of the Digital Equity Laboratory at the New School. “That’s why we’re seeing this battle to set policy precedent. HUD I think is trying to get ahead of what everyone is seeing on the horizon now as a big fight to set policy around algorithms.”

In the end the losers in this are the children whose parents want to move into a neighborhood or community where schools are better and services are more robust… but whose parents may never see ads for houses in those neighborhoods due to their online profile and the algorithms used based on that profile… and having banks and renters wash their hands of the problem by claiming: ‘It’s the credit histories, and our models explain the differences.’ But you can’t look at those models. They’re proprietary.” They may be proprietary… but they are also racist if they result in disparate treatment and they should be thrown out if that is the case. We can’t claim to be a fair and just society where everyone has an equal opportunity if we let propriety software deny access to good housing, good schools, and good neighborhoods. But from the Trump administration’s perspective, this is not a software bug… it’s a software feature.

Milliken v. Bradley Decision Undercut Brown v. Board of Education, Stopped Racial AND “Social” Desegregation

August 20, 2019 Comments off

Everyone who ever studied the history of public education in our nation and the history of race in our country has heard of the Brown v. Board of Education decision that not only called for the segregation of schools “with all deliberate speed” but also called for the end of the “separate but equal” provisions that legally permitted the continuation of segregation. But most readers— and this blogger— have overlooked the impact of Milliken v. Bradley, a subsequent Supreme Court decision in 1974 that let hundreds of northern districts off the hook by allowing de facto segregation to remain in place. Jon Hale brings this 45-year old decision to forefront in a recent article in The National Interest:

…the racial makeup of today’s schools actually owes itself to a series of other court decisions – including one issued 45 years ago on July 25, 1974. The Milliken v. Bradley decision sanctioned a form of segregation that has allowed suburbs to escape being included in court-ordered desegregation and busing plans with nearby cities.

The Milliken decision recognized “de facto” segregation – segregation that occurs as a result of circumstances, not law. This allowed schools in the North to maintain racially separate schools at the same time southern schools were being ordered by the courts to desegregate. By giving suburbs a pass from large mandated desegregation attempts, it built a figurative wall around white flight enclaves, essentially shielding them from the “crisis” of urban education.

The decision ruled that social segregation was permissible and therefore exempt from court-ordered, “forced” desegregation plans. That is, the court said, if segregation occurred because of certain “unknowable factors” such as economic changes and racial fears – not a law – then it’s legal.

In reading this article I was struck by the breadth of the decision made on this case, which dealt with a plan to bus students from Detroit to contiguous suburban schools to promote racial segregation. But the ruling went even further, determining that social segregation was permissible. As a result of this decision, the boundaries of school districts, which in most states match the borders of towns, townships, or counties, were impermeable. This meant the building a “…figurative wall around white flight enclaves” not only shielded those enclaves RACIALLY, it shielded them SOCIALLY, not just from the “crisis” of urban education but also from the crisis of funding inequities.

Mr. Hale concludes his article with this paragraphs:

Milliken put forth the convenient narrative that segregation in the North was natural and therefore permissible. It also freed northern school districts from being forced to participate in large-scale solutions to segregation and unequal education outside their boundaries.

I believe continuing to ignore Milliken covers up the ongoing segregation of America’s schools today and the nation’s collective, ongoing failure to improve public education in the spirit of Brown.

And the “spirit of Brown”, that all children should have an equal opportunity to attend a public school that offers them an education that will prepare them for the future on the same footing as everyone in their age cohort, was killed when five justices appointed by Richard Nixon supported the narrative of Justice Potter, who concluded in his written decision that segregation in Detroit was “caused by unknown and perhaps unknowable factors such as in-migration, birth rates, economic changes, or cumulative acts of private racial fears.” Red-lining, block-busting, and other banking and real estate sales “techniques” were hardly “unknown and perhaps unknowable factors” and the disparity in housing prices that emerged from these practices are hardly “unknown and perhaps unknowable factors”… but they persist today and are the root cause of the exacerbation of racial and economic segregation that persists as well.

University of Kentucky Study Shows Charter Schools More Segregated than Public Schools

August 15, 2019 Comments off

In a study that illustrates the Law of Unintended Consequences, Julian Vasquez Heilig, dean and professor of educational policy studies and evaluation at the University of Kentucky College of Education, found that “charter school students are more likely to attend racially isolated schools than their public school counterparts.” In carefully examining the publicly available school-level common core data from the National Center for Education Statistics, Mr. Vasquez Heilig and his co-authors T. Jameson Brewer, of the University of North Georgia College of Education, and Yohuru Williams, of the University of St. Thomas College of Arts and Sciences found that “...all schools — both charter and public — have become increasingly segregated by race and class in the past two decades.” But, contrary to their avowed purpose, charter schools are adding to the resegregation of schools:

Across the United States, 43% of public schools are majority non-white, compared to 65% of charter schools. Even in neighborhoods with a more balanced ethnoracial mix among residents, the researchers found charter schools were more likely to be comprised of more non-white students than the public schools in the area.

“While geography and residential segregation patterns contribute to segregation, we found local demography does not explain why charter schools feature more racial isolation than public schools,” Vasquez Heilig said. “In other words, when looking at the same zip code, charters are not more segregated than public schools because of their location.”

So… why ARE charters more segregated? Is it because segregation is desirable to children of color or is it because integration is undesirable to white parents? Mr. Vasquez Heilig sees it as an extension of white flight:

“In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to abolish the practice of separate educational facilities. However, our nation has allowed practices in the ensuing years that result in segregation of schools. As white flight has occurred, schools have been increasingly segregated by race and class. Nowhere is the problem more acute than in the nation’s charter schools,” Vasquez Heilig said.

“Charter schools have been seen as a means of providing equity through offering greater choice to low-income and minority students. However, we must carefully consider the impact these choices have on students. It is important to examine the data and work toward policies that improve the ethonoracial and economic diversity of all schools our nation’s children attend. The benefits of schooling in a diverse environment cannot be overlooked.”

The solution to this thorny dilemma is not easy… but one set of data offers a stopgap solution:

Students attending schools with predominantly poor students of color face reduced resources, less academic rigor in the form of limited access to advanced coursework, and largely untrained or inexperienced teachers.

We already know that the federal government will not intervene to compel racial balance despite the Brown decision. At the very least, though, they should intervene to ensure that the resources, teaching quality, and opportunities are equal. Brown ended “separate but equal” schools… and in its wake we now have separate and unequal schools. I’m certain that was not the endgame Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP was seeking… but that’s where we are today.

ICE Raids Leave Mississippi Children Homeless

August 8, 2019 Comments off

This USA Today article describes the impact of the ICE raids on the public schools in one Mississippi County. At the end of the article the Superintendent asks how children who are afraid that their parents will be taken away can possibly concentrate on their school work. With thousands of undocumented parents in our nation this is a question many teachers, administrators, and school board members will be asking in the weeks ahead.

In “Call Me By My True Names”, Thich Nhat Hanh Points Out a Troubling Reality that Princeton Professor Drives Home

August 7, 2019 Comments off

I just watched the YouTube video embedded below featuring Eddie Glaude, a Princeton Professor who talked with MSNBC about the recent killings in El Paso and Dayton. Watch it… and then read Thich Nhat Hanh’s poem, Call Me By My True Names, that is pasted below the video clip. My concluding thoughts follow the poem.

Call Me By My True Names

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow— even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving to be a bud on a Spring branch, to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings, learning to sing in my new nest, to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower, to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry, to fear and to hope. The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death of all that is alive.

I am a mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river. And I am the bird that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

I am a frog swimming happily in the clear water of a pond. And I am the grass-snake that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones, my legs as thin as bamboo sticks. And I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat, who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate.

And I am also the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands. And I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to my people dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth. My pain is like a river of tears, so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names, so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once, so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names, so I can wake up and the door of my heart could be left open,the door of compassion.

In response to the relentless accumulation of deaths due to mass shootings, politicians are drawn to quick solutions, solutions based on linear Western thought. If we limit guns we will limit deaths. If we identify potential killers and deny them the chance to acquire weapons we will limit deaths. If we stopped the sale of video games that graphically engage players in shooting enemies we will limit deaths. These solutions connect dots…. but as Mr. Glaude and Thich Nhat Hanh point out, there is an interdependence in play that requires each of us to examine ourselves and identify the role we are playing in increasing the violence and hatred in our world.

Can schools teach self-awareness and interdependence? It is a question I am wrestling with… and one I hope others who support public education will examine as well.

Watch Your Thoughts, They Become Words and Words Become Action…

August 6, 2019 Comments off

As noted in some earlier posts, I have been a meditation practitioner for several years, a formal practice I came to late in life but one that I did unwittingly for decades before as a runner. One of the points of meditation is to watch your thoughts and how those thoughts create narratives that, in turn, create your view of reality. This aphorism, which first appeared in Texas newspaper in 1977 quoting the President of Bi-Lo groceries:

“Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

I am fairly confident the Texas grocery store CEO would be surprised to learn that his aphorism’s roots are in the teachings of the Buddha. According to the Quote Investigator website, the first appearance of an analogous aphorism appears in the Dhammapada, the best-known book in the Pali Buddhist canon that was published in the third Century BCE. Here’s a quote from a translation of that by Thomas Byrom:

We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with an impure mind
And trouble will follow you
As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.

I’ve seen versions of this aphorism in guidance offices across the country, variously attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Thatcher’s father, and Lao Tzu. The source of the quote is immaterial. The content, though, reflects the thinking of many educators, parents, and community members I know who believe students should master the ability to witness their own thinking so that they can ultimately understand why they think what they think and why they believe what they believe.

It strikes me that instead of practicing drills to deal with an active shooter schools might use their time to teach children how to witness their own thinking and to see the link between their thoughts and their actions. Our nation is debating access to guns and whether the President is a racist or not. Our time would be better spent examining our own thoughts to see how they are contributing to the divisiveness that is tearing our Democracy apart.

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NBC Reporter’s Makes Chilling and Persuasive Case that Reagan’s “Revolution” was All Based on Race

August 3, 2019 Comments off

NBC News reporter Syreeta McFadden’s opinion piece, “The Democratic Party Can’t Win Back Mythical “Reagan Democrats” Without Forsaking Their Principles“, offers a history of Reagan’s rise to power and, in doing so, offers a compelling case that it was based on race. Here are the two paragraphs that serve as the core of Ms. McFadden’s argument:

The mythical Reagan Democrats don’t exist anymore — if they ever did. They were social conservatives whose party affiliation was rooted in a Democratic Party that thankfully no longer exists; moderates of that time are conservatives now, and their conservatism is and was rooted in decades of a culture war that began with a little thing called the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

It’s the hard truth for many to admit that the delicate push-pull of the American democracy centers around how vehemently politicians believe they can embrace the dismantling of racial apartheid in America, or that the conservatism worldview, particularly, as embodied by Trump, increasingly embraces bigotry as social and political norm — though that certainly did not begin with him.

In the article, Ms. McFadden offers a description of a speech Ronald Reagan gave after his nomination as the Republican’s candidate to oppose Jimmy Carter, a speech I had read about in several articles:

It was deeply intentional that, on Aug. 3, 1980, the newly minted Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan gave a speech at the Neshoba County Fair, just outside of Philadelphia, Mississippi, where the bodies of three civil rights workers were discovered in 1964 after they disappeared trying to register African Americans to vote. There Reagan touted his vision of states’ rights and welfare reform with purported colorblind language to appeal to embittered voters feeling abandoned by the Democratic Party after the civil rights era— those who had yet to fully declare themselves Republicans but were certainly social conservatives.

“I believe that there are programs like that,” meaning welfare, said the man who is widely credited with popularizing the myth of the black welfare queen, “programs like education and others” — this, in the era of desegregation and busing — “that should be turned back to the states and the local communities with the tax sources to fund them,” he finished before thunderous applause to an all-white audience. “I believe in state’s rights; I believe in people doing as much as they can for themselves at the community level and at the private level.

Perhaps these words don’t resonate in 2019 as they did in 1980 but his audience had no doubt about his references: He was talking about the end of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, the end of federal government programs (and state contributions to them) widely seen as benefiting impoverished African American residents more than white ones, the end of federal interference in state efforts to maintain segregation and segregated poverty, and the end of federal oversight that endeavored to bring about America’s mythical promise of justice for all.

For me, those words resonate more today than they ever did… for we have come to see that in the broadest sense “social conservatives” are pro-apartheid, anti-egalitarian social Darwinist libertarians who are willing to live in a world where fewer and fewer individuals control more and more wealth in the country thanks to the natural results of deregulated capitalism o long as that world does not require them to spend any time in the presence of those of a different race. And in the paragraphs that follow, Ms. McFadden illustrates how the Democratic Party shed its principles to reach out to these “social conservatives”:

To the still mostly white Democrats mollywhopped by the 1980 national campaign and examining the electorate, it was easy to fearfully pivot to the stated proclivities of those voters and forfeit policies that would support and sustain communities of color, who made up most of the statistical working class. Reagan’s war on drugs prepared the ground for the Clinton administration’s 1994 Crime Bill. Reagan’s constant invocation of the welfare queen was repackaged under Clinton as the “end welfare as we know it” — still using black women, as Reagan had, as symbols of government dependency.

Today, Democratic Party centrists continue to center their language and thinking to appeal to the same white discomfort with a liberal and inclusive society, the same suspicion that brown folk are getting an unequal share of resources and prosperity in American society.Carter’s defeat in 1980 still looms so large in the Democratic imagination that they are convinced that the nation is and remains center-right and, instead of adopting a vision to capture voters across class and ethnic lines, centrists continue to push the party to direct its energies toward the white working class even as polls, elections and demographics show the actual way forward.

This week’s debates really made it obvious that the moderate platform is simply to obstruct any necessary deep structural changes and to placate voters who fear the younger brown and black progressive “hordes.” But we are actually a coalition of people across class and ethnic lines who recognize, finally, that the moderate forces are not our allies, that the “Reagan Democrats” are not the belles of this ball. We are not willing to cede to Republican policies and undermine the desires of our own base. The center has moved left — and, for those relying on the center-right, the panic has set in.

After reading this, I understood the source of my misgivings for “centrist” Democrats. When I read that the economic programs proposed by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are “too far to the left” or that Pete Buttigieg could never be elected because he’s gay or that we need to stay with the “centrists” like Joe Biden who helped develop and support the “third way” policies of Bill Clinton, I realize that my antipathy for them is based on my belief that IF the Democrats want undercut the “bigotry as social and political norm” that Trump embodies, they must propose policies that are explicitly anti-apartheid, policies that are clearly in favor of federal oversight that strives “to bring about America’s mythical promise of justice for all“, and policies that provide the money needed for people to do “as much as they can for themselves at the community level”. That message WILL alienate the hard-core Trump supporters. But it will also send a message that the Democratic party believes bigotry is unacceptable, that the rule of law should apply to everyone no matter their race or economic status, and that every community needs to have the wherewithal to help their residents live a fruitful and fulfilling life. I truly and sincerely hope that those principles are shared by the majority of Americans in our country.