Thursday, March 30, 2006

Conventional Wisdom is Often (Deliberately) Wrong

Update: There is a new Sixteen Volts piece on this essential issue.

Sixteen Volts recently had a posting about the recent Duke University rape case. He points out the obvious, that to the extent that race plays a role in the coverage, it is the fact that white men allegedly raped a black women that makes it a big story. There would be much less outrage were the races reversed.

This reminds me of an article I read while doing my post "Rape Is About Sex! Duh!"

The article was about lesbians facing sexual assault by other women, but that is tangential to the point of this posting. The important line:

Most of the rapes in the U.S. are committed by white men. Many people in the U.S. wrongly believe that the majority of rapes are committed by men-of-color against white women. The fact is that 90% of rapes occur between people of the same race. However, men-of-Color are disproportionately incarcerated.

This is a textbook example of using half-truths. The implied message is:

"White men are more likely to commit rape than black men. Many people wrongly believe that blacks are more likely to commit rape than whites, but women have much more to fear from white men. However, black men are more likely to be imprisoned for the same offense where a white man would get off.

In reality, there are several flaws in this message.

Flaw 1: They are comparing total numbers of rapes by white men against total numbers of rapes by black men, not considering the fact that there are more than five times as many whites as there are blacks.

Flaw 2: There is a unfounded assertion that many people in the U.S. think that the majority of rapes are black-man-on-white-women. I don't know of anyone who thinks this. And in terms of determining who is more likely to rape, what is important is the race of the rapists, not the race of the victims.

Flaw 3: The fact that most rapes are intraracial rather than interracial is brought up, obviously to make it look like white men are more dangerous than black men. But two things are overlooked: comparing the rate of intraracial black rape to intraracial white rape, and comparing black-on-white rape to white-on-black rape. As Ilkka Kokkarinen (16 volts) pointed out in the aforelinked post, black-on-white rape is much more common.

Flaw 4: There is also the obviously implication that white women have more to fear from other whites than from blacks. This may be true in a broad sense of what white women ought to worry about, but not so true in terms of assessing the danger level of black men vs. white men. Part of the reason why so many rapes are intraracial is because there is a reasonably large amount of segregation. A white woman living in a mostly white community who doesn't meet many lacks is much more likely to come into contact with a white rapist than a black one simply due to the sheer preponderance of white men. This doesn't mean that the white men are more dangerous per capita, or that if she lived in a mostly black neighborhood, where whites did not predominate, that she would be safer.

So what is the message? No, it's not that black men are dangerous, or that most black men are rapists, or any such. The message is that a lot of what we hear as conventional wisdom consists of misrepresentations and half-truths, as well as lies. Particularly on issues of race and gender, the most highly respected experts tend to misrepresent facts in order to maintain their ideology of absolute equality of behavior between races. (I would say the same thing about the Iraq War except that I don't think that those who are trying to push the pro-war view are terribly highly respected as experts by anyone other than hacks.

The larger point is, don't trust what you read until you're certain that you understand what the facts really say, not what the writer is trying to make them say.

That is all.

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