did bill clinton cause mass incarceration of black people?

Short answer: Bill Clinton’s policies contributed to maintaining and increasing mass incarceration, but they affected Whites more than Blacks. Edit to short answer: Over in my full post on my own blog, I added graphs of the federal system, where Black imprisonment did go up under Clinton more than White imprisonment did. Federal system is smaller than state systems, so the overall patterns are dominated by state systems. The full post also gives graphs for other races.

Graph state imprisonment by race
National rate of being in state prisons, by race, 1978-2007.

The vertical line at 1995 represents the first year Clinton’s crime bill could take effect. Black state imprisonment leveled off during the Clinton years while White imprisonment continued to rise steeply. The Black/White disparity declined in the Clinton years. The steep rise in the Black imprisonment rate occurred during the Reagan/Bush years and the drug war, which was at its peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s, before Clinton took office.

Graph of Black/White disparity in state imprisonment
Black/White disparity in rate of being in state prisons 1978-2007


More details and data sources over at my academic blog Race, Politics, Justice.

everyday sexism

My local newspaper is one of many that did this. Notice “salutes wife’s achievement” is  and “former first lady.” Not former Senator, not former Secretary of State. I don’t agree with all of Clinton’s politics and understand that others disagree with more than I do, even enough not to vote for her, but you have a sack over your head if you don’t think there is sexism in this race. And, just to be clear, I learned from a friend that it was a woman night editor who made the editorial decision to run it this way, offering a lame excuse about what photos were available (as if you don’t have stock photos of the presumptive party nominee). And that editor provided no excuse for referring to her solely in terms of her relation to Bill. Gender bias isn’t just a male thing.
ClintonWSJ 2smaller

And, just to be clear, here is what they published at the comparable point for Trump. They used a stock photo. Continue reading “everyday sexism”

responding to attack

I was in the news briefly in the context of an attack our university by way of an attack on one reading assignment in one of our lecturer-taught classes. Our institutional strategy is to avoid adding energy to the attack by engaging it, instead to let it die from its own weakness, so I’m not going to link to the relevant news stories or provide identifying details, but I thought it would be instructive to give some background and reflections that are both potentially helpful to others at public institutions and of interest to the broader state of higher education.

I received an email as department chair from a talk show host about one reading assignment in a class, complaining about its “vulgar and racist language and obscene focus.” I initially wrote a long response that explained how one uses “edgy” material in teaching, explaining that sexual material is appropriate for adults, and that we still can express sensitivity and concern for student sensibilities without censoring ourselves. I referenced my own discomfort as an 18-year-old student when a lecturer discussed the sexual imagery in Thomas Mann. My initial response also included a snide remark about how students with real concerns usually raise them with the instructor or chair, not talk show hosts. I almost sent it, but then at the last minute realized that I’d better check my response with higher ups, given that the tone of the email sounded more political than actually offended. Continue reading “responding to attack”

community controlled police & building trust

I’m slowly edging out of the blog closet by linking my online personas and calling your attention to two of my essays on my academic blog Race, Politics, Justice. These include a review of an article by Madison activist M Adams and her collaborator Max Rameau advocating community controlled police and a more reflective essay about the problem of creating trust when structures promote distrust.

Anyone who has been working on this issue knows that the problems of police violence and racial disparities in policing are difficult to address because they are so deeply connected with fundamental structures of inequality. We also seek constantly to maintain our understanding of the good intentions of many actors in the system and the complex interactions that constrain everyone while also maintaining a critical perspective and willingness to work for improvement and justice.

commenting on someone else’s closely related work

A graduate student I know asked for advice and I don’t know the answer, so let’s see if any scatterplot readers do. How do you build good relations with someone whose work is closely related to yours without inadvertently over-influencing each other or encroaching on each others’ turf? The research involves reading archival sources and interpreting historical events, and the student has learned that a student at another university is working with overlapping archival materials and is addressing similar research questions employing similar frames for what was going on. The two projects are not identical in their full scope, but there is a point of definite overlap between them, on the order of, say, one chapter in a three chapter dissertation. Can they read and comment on each other’s work without risking loss of independence of discovery?  What boundaries should they set? I don’t do this kind of research, so I don’t have a lot of experience to work from. The student prefers to have a friendly “yay we are working on the same topic” relationship, not a competitive relationship, with the colleague. This is a pretty small research area where everybody knows everybody else in the area.

My own ideas: (1) full disclosure at the outset: each informing the other that there is some overlap; (2) cite each other’s draft papers in your own drafts as someone who is working on similar ideas. (3) in making comments on the other person’s paper, stay within the frame of what they have written, don’t “give away” your own paper ideas by way of comments. Instead, you can share your own working papers with them and have them cite them.

Question: is the person whose work is less far along at a disadvantage in this process? Should the person who has not written up a draft yet avoid reading the other person’s work until they have their own draft?

Are there other pitfalls I have not thought of?

participating while privileged

I’ve been asked to participate in a session at a conference for academics and activists that is supposed to help set the tone for how academics ought to behave when interacting with community people. It turns out that I am considered to be good at this. This is the kind of accolade that is very dangerous. The minute you think you know what you are doing and are confident of your ability to mix well across lines of culture and privilege, you will mess it up. It is like bragging about how humble you are.

Since I seem to have been anointed, at least temporarily, as having some expertise in this area, I thought I’d write down some of my thoughts, partly in preparation for the session. Continue reading “participating while privileged”

revolting reviewers

My essay “The Revolt of the Reviewers” [I think the link may be paywalled] has just been posted online at the American Sociologist. It is an invited followup to my scatterplot rant from 2013. I am surprised to see my article posted before the others in this special issue that is focused on journal publication issues and look forward to reading what others in the issue have to say. In my essay I gripe about sending papers to too many reviewers and a broken R&R process and then segue into thoughts on why we have more than one reviewer per article anyway (don’t we trust each other’s competence?) and discussions of the structure of publishing and its relation to the scholarly need to accumulate knowledge. A rather self-indulgent and cranky piece that rather befits an older scholar who has little to lose. But hopefully it contributes to useful discussions.

Update: here is a link to a preprint of the article.