Friday, November 26, 2010

Bike theft: "You are so big and strong!"

Stanley Milgrom used guys with white coats. But it turns out all he needed was a cute blonde.

As one of the commenters says: "Good lord, are men ever stupid."

The earlier video is perhaps more disturbing. Actually, it just IS more disturbing.

What's disturbing is that I wonder if I would have treated the white kid and the black kid the same. I'm not sure. Just not sure. Disturbing.

UPDATE: A commenter asks, "Isn't this just statistical discrimination?"

"Just statistical discrimination"? Um...yes. But the point is that I knew what was going on, and I *still* found myself watching the black kid and getting madder, thinking, "It looks like he's stealing that bike."

Racism is persisting in a biased race-based belief even when evidence to the contrary is clear and convincing. I knew the trick, but I still was watching the black kid and getting mad.

When I was at Wash U, with Angus in grad school, sharing our office with Steve from "Day-ton," I went out on night late to ride my bike home. I saw a black kid sitting beside my bike, and immediately thought, "Is he stealing my bike?" In my defense, it was 3 a.m., and an odd time to be just sitting beside a bike in a parking area.

But I thought, don't be an asshat racist. Just go over there. As I walked up, he tried to hide the bolt cutters under his leg, and struck up a conversation. I asked if he had seen any really big rats around, since something had chewed the cable on my bike lock nearly through.

He jumped up, took his bolt-cutters, and sauntered off, whistling.

I reported the attempted theft. The Wash U po-po was all excited, "We know that guy." (My description had been, "Black guy, medium height, orange shirt.")

Next day, they called me in to do a photo line-up. Nine photos. Now, I am not making this up, people. Of the nine, four of the photos were of white guys. Of the remaining five, four were black and white photos. The remaining one was in color. The color It was a black guy with an orange shirt.

I am ashamed to admit I went through with it, pointing out ("j'accuse!") the one color photo guy. The local Dick Tracies were VERY excited; "That's the one, all right, that's him, yepper!"

They told me he would be charged, and I would be called as a witness. But apparently when they called St Louis police to do the arrest, the kid ran. He ran out into a street, and was hit by a taxi. He died the next day.

The point is that I have some baggage here, on the whole black kid stealing a bike with bolt cutters thing. "Just statistical discrimination?" It is unjust statistical discrimination, I'm afraid.


Anonymous said...

Isn't this just statistical discrimination?

Anonymous said...

The experiment would have been better if the white kids clothes were also too big for him. And, the white kid looks as though he's missed fewer meals than the black kid. Still convincing, but results may be exaggerated as the black kid might have appeared more "needy" than the white kid to some folks.

LoneSnark said...

The white kid was also larger than the black kid. As a tall person myself, I have noticed that I am able to get away with a lot more than my smaller friends. People are more likely to respond with anger to someone that is smaller than they are, even if all they do with the anger is notify others. I don't think they are afraid that we will get violent, all they feel they are doing is giving us the benefit of the doubt.

LoneSnark said...

That said, the two actors responded differently when challenged. The white kid responded with a smile and what could be interpreted as a joke (not really my bike), as if he was embarrassed. People took pity and walked away, often without saying anything. Meanwhile, the black kid was used to being black and small, knew people would address him with anger, so he responded with a combination of fearful looks and angry responses, convincing everyone he was guilty and should be stopped.

None of this is to lessen the effect of being black on what happened, just to say that if the experiment was repeated enough, some small percentage of blacks would get away with it, while some small percentage of whites would get arrested.