Charles Blow of the New York Times faced off with conservative Dan Bongino on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 on Wednesday over whether an inherent racial “bias” against blacks in American society fed into the controversial case of a NYPD officer choking Eric Garner to death during an arrest. Blow claimed that “society…acculturates us to fear, and…that is how the whole justice system becomes corrupted and biased….we are not always even aware that we have the bias.” Bongino, himself a former NYPD officer, ripped the liberal writer’s claims as “utterly absurd.” Blow cited apparent “social science” supporting his “bias” claims, and blasted the former Secret Service agent’s critique as “offensive,” especially in the wake of a grand jury choosing not to indict the policeman in the Garner case:
CHARLES BLOW: Do you have any knowledge of the social science on implicit bias in America? Do you have any knowledge whatsoever? Because there is a mountain-
DAN BONGINO, FORMER SECRET SERVICE AGENT: Listen, you can quote to me every scientific study you can like, but you’re not going to convince me-
BLOW: There is a mountain of evidence-
ANDERSON COOPER: One at a time; one at a time – one at a time, Charles-
BLOW: There is a mountain of evidence that – that back up the notion that there is implicit and explicit bias in American society. And for you to suggest that that is not true is ridiculous, and…it is offensive, on a night like this, for you to suggest this-
COOPER: Okay. Dan – Dan, respond-
BONGINO: No. I think it’s ridiculous – I think it’s ridiculous that you’re stereotyping…basically all of America, and say that somehow that – and I’m not denying, again, for the second time – that the black experience in America is far different. I don’t know what it’s like to have a hoodie on in Manhattan, and not be able to get a cab – I don’t. I will never understand that. But for you to stereotype the entire country, and quote a few footnotes on social science and say-
BLOW: Those aren’t footnotes. Those are major studies, and – and don’t try – and don’t try to talk out of both sides of your mouth and say that you recognize the bias; and then, that you deny the bias. You cannot have it both ways. There is bias in America–
BONGINO: You’re trying to make an overly-simplistic argument-
BLOW: And you cannot deny that, and you cannot deny science. And this is not a night on which that you are going to be able to deny science.
Curated from newsbusters.org
Michaela Angela Davis’ point about acculturation, “you see the police accultured to fear Black men…” to which Bongino retorted “… police aren’t acculturated to fear Black men…”
Acculturation needed to have been defined and clarified to the satisfaction of both sides before going on to a discussion of acculturation in law enforcement. It wasn’t, and it’s a pity. Bongino used the very successful tack of “prove it” with something we all know is very hard to show. That’s why one of the names we give “it” is “dog-whistle.”
Acculturation begins at home with the acquisition of speech and social language, and it continues throughout a person’s development and beyond. The fear of Black people is instilled implicitly and explicitly in childhood in the home and outside of it. Children are taught to socialize. A part of that social learning is who to avoid. Depending on the views of any given family, avoidance of entire classes of people may be taught explicitly, implicitly, or a combination of both.
Some examples of that avoidance might revolve around rules for hygiene in public places, not playing at a playground that is frequented by minorities, not socializing with minority children, not inviting minority classmates to parties, not trying on clothes at a store that is frequented by minorities, or sharing food that was touched by specific kinds of people.
When I was young, a Senegalese friend gave me an Easter basket. The basket was what Europeans traditionally give each other:
I remember being overjoyed to receive such a large chocolate treasure trove. I also remember my mother’s frozen smile during the entire party and her dogged persistence at keeping me from eating any of it. Once everyone was gone, I was informed that I couldn’t partake of any of the chocolate hen because it came from “those people.” While no additional information about what “those people” meant was given, what was implied was clear.
But I digress, other ways of transferring fear of Black people is in the teaching of personal safety. Safety training is introduced early on, whether it consists of a child not venturing in certain places, associating with specific types of people, to outright forbidding certain types of contact as the child gets older. It may start out as subtly as not inviting certain classmates to a birthday party, and, later on, forbidding interracial dating at school dances. It also may, often, start with using minority stereotypes to teach the child about stranger danger. The progression may be very subtle, very direct, or a combination of the two.
Getting back to Mr. Bongino’s denial that he was acculturated during his police training; he is partly right. He received the training that Ms. Davis alluded to well before he entered the Police Academy. Anything he picked up there would mostly have been as subtle as the sound that comes from a dog-whistle.
Getting to Charles Blow’s point about everyone – all of us – being affected by implicit and explicit bias; he’s right. We’ve all been exposed over our lifetimes, whether it’s at home, school, work, walking down the street, taking the subway… We’ve all been taught protocols for thinking and behavior in every situation we encounter in our daily lives.
Mr. Bongino, clearly, was not prepared to concede any point, even when presented with empirical data. When someone is that entrenched, completely unwilling to look at information, the conversation is over even before it begins.
I hope Anderson Cooper picks up this conversation again with Charles Blow and Michaela Angela Davis and different interlocutors.