Hello everyone. I’m new at this. My first thoughts are about how “out” to be. Now that I do a lot of public sociology, I have a public personna to consider. How much can I say to the web about the interesting things I’ve observed without delegitmating myself and my work? Much of what I spend a lot of time thinking about is race relations in the US, due to my teaching and public work, and I hope to write about this as I think I have had thoughts and experiences different from a lot of White people’s. But I worry about saying something in public that will seem condescending or insulting to the people I am writing about. I have to think about just how public this forum us. I was up most of the night preparing much-overdue reports for the commission I’m on. Somehow a couple of dozen of us have to agree on a report, and we have not had much time to work on it. Many of us said, “why don’t we just send email drafts around?” Turns out some people are very worried about drafts circulating. Partly we are subject to open records laws. Partly there are concerns that anything that is emailed can get forwarded to who knows who and that people would start criticizing the report before we even get it written. There are people who have already written editorials against what they expect us to say. So getting the work done is that much harder. This relates to a second point. While the political culture in my home town (which for now I’ll call Universityville) specializes in conflict avoidance and being racially sensitive politically correct liberals (albeit racially sensitive politically correct liberals who are uncomfortable talking about race), the political culture in nearby Segregationtown is divisive and combative, especially along racial lines. In Universityville (and on the commission), everybody agrees racial disparity is a big tragic problem that everyone should work together to solve, and we are all on board with the idea that we probably have unconscious biases that affect our decisions. In Segregationtown, some White people argue in public that racial disparities are not a problem, that people are just getting what they deserve, and Black people are much more likely to use the R-word in public as a description of other people. The commission had a debate about the “tone” our report should take. Some of us argued that we should try to get buy-in and reduce the sense of threat among White officials by emphasizing that bias, when it occurs, is often unconscious, and that there are system factors that can produce racially disparate effects without individual bias. Others, especially Black politicians, argued that if our tone was too mild and did not charge bias, their constituents would feel that the whole process had been a whitewash. I should say, by the way, that in many ways I enjoy the rowdiness of Segregationtown’s politics as a refreshing change from the earnestness of Universityville. Philosophically, I’m 100% in the Universityville camp. I actually believe we all have to work together on these things. But my bluntness constantly gets me in trouble and it is kind of relaxing to be in an environment in which there are a lot of other blunt people around.
Amusing moment. After testimony from a public official (guess his race?) who assured us that he is absolutely color blind and never discriminates against anyone on the basis of any demographic factor, who also told us that collecting data on how his agency functions by race is dangerous because “it could be used in the wrong way,” a commissioner asked him if in the 30 years of his career in public service he had ever worked with anyone whom he suspected from their actions or language might possibly have some hidden racial bias. He said “no.”