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The look of solidarity



When I wrote yesterday about Gideon Lewis-Kraus’s long NYT piece on Alice Goffman I focused on the article’s failure to produce any exculpatory evidence regarding the apparently fraudulent elements of her book On the Run. I’d like to emphasize that my criticisms of the book have nothing to do with any aversion to or skepticism about ethnography as a genre: Many people have written and continue to write great ethnographies, which are among the most valuable artifacts produced by the modern university. (For example, I can’t recommend this new book highly enough, which I’ll have more to say about soon).

It’s all the more unfortunate that Goffman and her work have ended up representing to the public at large (GKL’s piece is the fourth substantial article the Times has published about her in the last year and a half) what contemporary sociology in general, and ethnography in particular, are about.

It’s also unfortunate that GKL’s piece reads almost like a parody of right-wing paranoia about how the Times is supposedly a nexus of muddle-headed leftist propaganda for progressive views. In regard to both these issues, consider this passage:

At the gate in Newark, Goffman unshouldered a bulky zippered tote bag. ‘‘I’m so happy,’’ she said with visible and somewhat exaggerated relief, ‘‘that I didn’t give you this to take through security yourself.’’ Over the course of our correspondence, I had asked her from time to time if she had any book artifacts that escaped destruction. In this tote was some material she had forgotten about: unpaid bills, bail receipts, letters from prison and a few extant fragments of hastily scrawled in situ field notes. But it wasn’t until the security line that she remembered what the tote probably once held, memorabilia from her time on Sixth Street: bullets, spent casings, containers for drugs. She passed safely through the scanner in a state of agitation, not about the risk she took but by how blithely she was treated by T.S.A. agents.

‘‘And who did they stop?’’ she said. ‘‘Not me and my bag of contrabandy stuff, but a young man with brown skin. I tried to exchange a look of solidarity with him, but he wouldn’t look at me. Compare that to the interactions I’ve had at this airport — people smiling at me, holding the door for me. You don’t think, as a white person, about how your whole day is boosted by people affirming your dignity all day long. This isn’t news. But it is stuff that, for me, at the beginning. …’’ She didn’t finish the sentence.

If a hypothetical ethnographer had witnessed this scene while doing a study of how high-concept journalism is produced in America today, the appropriate field note could probably be abbreviated as WTF?

What exactly is GLK saying Goffman said to him at the gate? (And who edited this piece for content and style?). That she was afraid her tote bag still had bullets, spent casings, and containers for drugs in it, and was relieved to discover, after going through security, that it didn’t? How plausible is this? Consider that the interview is taking place in the fall of 2015, which is eight years after Goffman stopped hanging out on Sixth Street. Has Goffman not used this tote bag since then? She obviously examined its contents prior to meeting GLK, because she knows it contains “unpaid bills, bail receipts, letters from prison and a few extant fragments of hastily scrawled in situ field notes.” Did she find these things in various places and put them in the tote to show them to GLK, or have the contents of the tote bag somehow remained undisturbed for the last eight years, while Goffman carried it around — all the while unaware of its forgotten contents –to her several residences since then? What does it even mean to say that it was only when she reached the security line “that she remembered what the tote probably once held, memorabilia from her time on Sixth Street: bullets, spent casings, containers for drugs?” That she was afraid the bag may have contained these things at one time, and perhaps still did?

That would seem to be the implication, given “the risk she took” by taking the bag through security, but GLK’s description of his exchange with Goffman on this point isn’t written clearly enough to tell for sure. In any case, the whole passage reeks of equal parts bullshit and self-dramatization, but apparently GLK is presenting it as evidence of Goffman’s lingering street cred. Or something: it’s very hard to tell what the point of all this even is (again, editors?).

Then we get this: ‘‘And who did they stop?’’ she said. ‘‘Not me and my bag of contrabandy stuff, but a young man with brown skin.” What “contrabandy stuff?” Unpaid bills, bail receipts, letters — prison letters, mind you — none of this stuff, whatever totemic significance it may have for Goffman (and assuming it was actually in the bag; did GLK ever ask to see it?), has even the vaguest aspect of contraband. They are pieces of paper.

Again, bullshit/self-dramatization, etc.

What about the young man with brown skin? Goffman is obviously implying that people of color are much more likely to get searched by TSA than white people, all other things being equal. What’s her basis for this claim? An experimental n = 1? If this is her idea of qualitative sociology, the quality needs some major upgrading. (ETA: Assuming this incident even happened as described, which under the circumstances is itself open to serious doubt).

Then this: “I tried to exchange a look of solidarity with him, but he wouldn’t look at me.”

No comment necessary.

ETA: OK a comment. This is another example of how Goffman seems to constantly confuse her “positionality.” The whole point of the anecdote is that she (supposedly) has white privilege in this particular context, so there isn’t any solidarity here between her and him, much as she might want there to be. But Goffman has a habit of forgetting that she’s a very privileged person in all sorts of ways: hence her complaints that doubts about her veracity are attacks on the credibility of low-status informants, such as the residents of Sixth Street.

And then: “Compare that to the interactions I’ve had at this airport — people smiling at me, holding the door for me. You don’t think, as a white person, about how your whole day is boosted by people affirming your dignity all day long.”

Because if there’s one place in America a white person can go where she can count on having her dignity affirmed, it’s the airport in general, and a TSA screening point in particular.

The most startling thing about all this is that GLK seems to be presenting it as evidence of both Goffman’s purported authenticity as a person, and her supposed reliability as a sociological observer. It’s more than unfortunate that this complete mess of an article in the paper of record is touting Alice Goffman and On the Run as representing the cutting edge of sociological research in America today.

(h/t to LGM commenter ASV).

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  • libarbarian

    Now I want a “look of solidarity” emoji.

    • Ahuitzotl


      and oh god how I wish I was joking

    • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

      IRL I suspect it looks a lot like


  • The Dark God of Time
    • rea

      Very eloquently put.

  • Buckeye623

    So she.. hasn’t cleaned her possessions with Lysol in the prior 8 years? Or just this one bag in particular?

    I have clamshell suitcases whose rubber housings decay and fall apart in less time.. no doubt partially because of the TSA inspecting in airports.

    How clean are the rest of her possessions if she hasn’t cleaned this bag in 8 years? If she’s presentable / tidy, exactly how reliable are these words?

    • Nobdy

      Lots of people have bags with contents they haven’t looked at in a long time stashed in a closet somewhere, and it’s even plausible that someone would take one of these bags on multiple residential moves. Think of the musty old suitcase of personal letters in grandma’s attic.

      However that is in conflict with her claim to know what’s in the bag, implying she has recently inspected it.

      The actual story is a weird pastiche of vaguely believable details that don’t, together, add up into a coherent explanation. You forgot about this thing even though you lugged it around (okay) but you know what’s in it (still okay) but only the paper items and not the possible drugs or bullets (what?).

      • so-in-so

        I don’t know, I can imagine knowing a bag had material I wanted to bring, maybe giving it a quick glance to see that the expected papers were there, then remembering (in the security line) that these other things I had picked up at the same time might be in there as well.

      • BiloSagdiyev

        My God, is she using the Joe Strummer filing system? I don’t think that will do for academia.


        Lucinda Mellor explains that the discovery was made in a room buried in the depths of the farmhouse she shared with her husband, which she rarely if ever ventured into while he was alive.

        When Strummer returned home after a tour, he would throw his suitcases into the room, leaving them jumbled alongside other suitcases he brought back from his travels.

        Ms Mellor left the suitcases untouched until long after Strummer died of an undiagnosed congenital heart defect. When she ventured into the room for the first time to investigate the contents of the baggage, she unearthed a veritable Aladdin’s cave of music and musings from one of the most celebrated artists of his generation. Each suitcase contained around 30 plastic bags, each in turn laden with an array of writing and drawings jotted down while Strummer had been on the road and at his most creative.

        Alongside the cases were a few mouldy tea chests containing lyrics that he wrote for The Clash. Otherwise, the material from the room relates to tours he undertook as lead singer of the Mescaleros , the band he formed in 1999, six years after he met his wife and fourteen years after The Clash finally disbanded.

        The layers of packaging suitcases within a room and plastic bags within suitcases represent differing time-scales. Most of the bags relate to a week; most of the suitcases to several months; and the room to several years. “I suddenly realised that each bag was pertinent to a week on tour or a session”, Ms Mellor said, adding that alongside the glimpses into his extraordinary life were more mundane items.

        “Each bag had a sharpener in it, each bag had cigarette papers, a matchbox, endless bits of napkins, kitchen roll, receipts,”. The plastic bags formed a kind of material diary of a particular segment on any tour. “Each bag told a story which was amazing. I had done quite a bit of sorting before I really realised…”

    • drwormphd

      With this airport bag story, I think she’s trying to nail down the ‘I’m SOOOO scatterbrained, guys!’ angle, in part because it’s one of her defenses against inconsistencies in her book, and also because it gives her a bit of ‘cool girl’ cred (which the NYT author completely bought).

      • muddy

        I’ve not seen a picture of her, but I’m betting she’s slim. That attribute is generally not seen as charming if the woman is not.

  • Nobdy

    Forgive me for my ignorance, but why would you have spent shell casings in a tote bag? Were there stories of her going target shooting (and picking up the shells)? Were they part of a crime that she was helping cover up? (In that case, why would you not dispose of them immediately?) I understand why you might be holding drugs or bullets for someone, but I don’t get the spent shell casings.

    Are they just items you acquire through some sort of osmosis by being ‘around crime’?

    On another note, unpaid bills and bail receipts also seem like weak evidence. I know plenty of middle class people who had unpaid bills in their youths, and anyone can bail anyone else out of jail. In addition, you can probably get copies of a bail receipt pretty easily (if you were the one who posted bail) so if those were important they could have been obtained earlier.

    Letters from jail are also uninteresting. I’ve received letters from jail myself. I don’t think anyone has argued that she never knew or interacted with anyone with a criminal history, just that her stories are extremely embellished or made up.

    The field notes would, of course, be of much more interest if they were authentic, but are also easily faked.

    The whole thing definitely reads like a con, and not a great one, because it’s full of references to things that could, with explanation, be evidence of what she’s trying to prove, without any attempt to tie the ‘evidence’ to any specific claims.

    Not to belabor the point but what is the reason for the shell casings? They’re either garbage or evidence, neither of which are things you blithely store in a tote bag and forget about.

    • LuckyJimJD

      Totally gratuitous tangent: When I was practicing law, I sometimes received letters from inmates seeking representation. The very best was from an inmate who claimed to have coined the phrase “toss salad” and wanted to sue everyone else who ever used it for copyright infringement. I dearly wish I’d saved that letter just to carry it with me whenever I go through airport security.

  • NotALawyer

    “I tried to exchange a look of solidarity with him, but he wouldn’t look at me.”
    – Myrna Minkoff

    • Srsly Dad Y

      Great, now I want a hot dog.

  • Crusty

    For the life of me, I don’t understand why she would have expected a look of solidarity back? Am I missing something? I understand that cops hassle and do worse to black people. That doesn’t mean they feel solidarity with me when I observe it. I just don’t get it. A white friend of mine has an adopted African-American daughter. He doesn’t go around high five-ing black people on the street saying hey brother, I’m down with the struggle.

    • Nobdy

      My understanding is that the number one thing most people of color want when they are being publicly humiliated by being singled out for search as a potential criminal is a look of solidarity from some white academic type.

      Something that says “Hey, you may be being subject to institutionalized racism right now, but don’t worry, I’m one of the good ones. I’m not going to help you or challenge the racist system, but still, I’m one of the good ones.”

      Nothing makes a POC feel better about himself than helping a white person understand their own blamelessness for institutionalized racism.

      • so-in-so

        Exactly. She walked through without being hassled, despite fearing that “something cotrabrandy” was in her bag. How can she claim any solidarity with the guy she thinks is being hassled unfairly? If both of them were having their bags searched, I can maybe understand the presumed connection. As it stands, unless the brown man being searched read her mind, he has no reason to think she even feared a negative interaction with the TSA!

        • Ahuitzotl

          Because shes secretly a brown person, under the skin, and all other brown people will recognise she’s just in disguise?

    • libarbarian

      Exactly what I was thinking.

      What kind of look could you exchange with a stranger, who is being hassled by authorities, that could not easily be misinterpreted as the exact opposite of what you want to convey?

      • Lee Rudolph

        What kind of look could you exchange with a stranger, who is being hassled by authorities, that could not easily be misinterpreted as the exact opposite of what you want to convey?

        Quickly applying blackface, perhaps?

    • twbb

      Earnest white liberal types seek that kind of approval all the time.

  • malraux

    Compare that to the interactions I’ve had at this airport — people smiling at me, holding the door for me.

    Wait, what modern airport has doors that need holding? It’s either automatic doors, convoluted curves for the bathrooms, or gate doors that require someone to be there smiling. I mean, I guess the bathroom stalls have doors, but I’d not take it as a good thing to have someone smile and hold one open for me.

  • nhradar

    What a weird layer of obfuscation on a not-that-interesting anecdote.

    I read her reaction as suggesting that she had forgotten that there had been a point when she would not have wanted to walk through the gate with the bag, and that carrying the bag through brought it all back to her and allowed her to live vicariously. I don’t understand why GLK put in the bit about the risk. Given the attention to her original source material, I can imagine thinking of the contents as “vaguely contrabandy” (as opposed to shell casings and drug containers, which would be unambiguously contrabandy). To me, it reads as if she’s highlighting the issue between real and perceived threats (if inelegantly, due to the limited lethality of old receipts, though she could also easily be imagining that if she still had drug containers and shell casings the result would be the same). Here she is, carrying around possible evidence of criminal activity right through security without issue, and some other guy gets hassled because he doesn’t look like her.

    Why all the drama?

    • Nobdy

      Shell casings aren’t really contraband. The TSA might confiscate them because they are too similar to live bullets, but they’re legal to possess, and if you made jewelry our of spent shells (as some gun nuts do) you could wear that on an airplane without being hassled at all.

      Drug containers aren’t contraband either unless they contain drugs. Otherwise they’re just glassine envelopes or little vials, which are both legal.

      More to the point I’m not sure how interested the TSA would even be in those things. They are not an investigative force and aren’t even really supposed to be stopping smuggling of contraband (though I’m sure they are trained to do so, insofar as they have any training.)

      They are a security agency meant to keep people safe by interdicting threats, not an investigative force trying to solve eight year old crimes. Did she think they were going to read her old notes and use them to investigate decade-old criminal activity?

      • Keaaukane

        The cops regularly arrest people on “residue” cases, having an empty plastic bag which will test positive for the drugs that were once contained therein. Drug containers can get you into trouble, though they should be outside of TSA’s area of interest.

    • alex284

      I read the point of this story as “Here is a bag that at one point actually contained contraband being carried by a person who at one point actually carried contraband, but they’re hassling someone else who for some reason I assume never carried contraband because white privilege.”

  • funkula

    My thought was not that she thought there might still be incriminating objects in the bag, but that the former contents might have left residue of gunpowder, cocaine, or something else that could cause security dogs to alert and cause additional screening. I know I don’t tend to launder luggage all that frequently, so I can see being worried about a non-visible remnant of a dubious past.

    • Crusty

      But her dubious past is that of an ethnographer, not a gangster. So while there’s the slight chance of inconvenience at the airport, there isn’t much of a chance of anything else. And, after all, she is a small white chick, so she’s got that going for her.

      • rea

        No, by her own account, essentially, she became a gangster for ethnography.

    • LWA

      Which makes it even more strained.
      If the “contrabandy” vials had traces of drugs it would be the dogs who alerted, not the agents. And dogs, God bless them, are pretty colorblind.

  • ajay

    Goffman is obviously implying that people of color are much more likely to get searched by TSA than white people, all other things being equal. What’s her basis for this claim? An experimental n = 1? If this is her idea of qualitative sociology, the quality needs some major upgrading.

    Wow. So Campos is saying here: “It is not only wrong, but prima facie ludicrous to suggest that TSA might be targeting people on racial grounds – so ludicrous that the mere fact that Goffman suggests it casts doubt on her intellect”.

    • ChrisTS

      Yeah, I’d give her a pass on that one, too.

      I suspect that the whole account is so squirm-inducing that Paul couldn’t help pointing out that this was hardly a conclusion based on statistical evidence.

      • Paul Campos

        I’d say the chances that she either made the whole incident up for GLK’s credulous benefit, or significantly mischaracterized it (for example, maybe the POC she tried to make eye contact with wasn’t the only person searched while AG was in the line) are probably better than 50/50.

        OTR is full of this kind of thing. It’s not as if no cop has ever tried to intimidate a suspect by grossly violating basic safety rules and putting a gun on the table during the interrogation. It’s that this just happened to happen to Alice Goffman. It’s not that no cop has ever arrested somebody in a maternity ward after running a random warrant check of the names of visitor list to the ward (OK this probably has never actually happened, as there’s no evidence it has, but let’s assume it has happened somewhere at some time), it’s that it happened in Philadelphia to Alice Goffman’s informant while AG was at the maternity ward, and in addition the cops helpfully agreed to fill in the plucky ethnographer on exactly what they were doing when she asked them to enlighten her. Etc.

        The point is that, given the various fabrications in OTR, Goffman’s stream of conveniently telling anecdotes should not merely be treated as ancedotal, but as quite possibly invented altogether.

        • Crusty

          Ah. I gather the idea here is that I can drive through crappy parts of Baltimore. I can even move to a crappy part of Baltimore. That doesn’t mean that Omar, Marlo, Avon and Bubbles will become my friends. Nor does it mean Herc and Carver will beat me up or shake me down. I might see some black people though.

          • ChrisTS

            Bingo. And, it is unlikely that the bag of dope will drop on your head as you walk with Omar. Or, that you will happen to be in the corner store when he gets shot, etc., etc.

        • ChrisTS

          Exactly. There is a whole picture, here, and picking on her assumptions about POC being victimized is bound up in the context of that whole.

        • cs

          But isn’t this a bit of circular reasoning? As in – we have evidence that Goffman sometimes makes stuff up, therefore we disbelive these possible-but-slightly-implausible anecdotes. And then we use the fact that Goffman invented these anecdotes as further evidence of her tendency to make stuff up.

          • so-in-so

            Maybe, but when I’ve lied to you ten times before, is it still a shock if I lie to you this time?

      • ajay

        I think it’s just the normal thing Campos does from time to time of starting off with a reasonable argument but then extending it way beyond the boundaries of reason into a sort of demented snarling extremism and throwing faeces at everyone on the other side.

        As in: rational position: “hey, this study actually shows that being slightly overweight isn’t associated with negative health consequences” —-> OBESITY IS A MYTH YES IT IS YOU ARE ALL BLIND DUPES OF THE DIET INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX.

        “Star Wars: The Force Awakens was OK, but it was a bit similar to two previous Star Wars films for my liking” —-> TFA WAS ABSOLUTE DRECK, AND THE FACT THAT ANY OF YOU LIKED IT SHOWED YOU ARE BRAIN DEAD MORON MEMBERS OF A SICK, WASTEFUL SOCIETY.

        It must be great fun for cabin crew on his flights.
        “Good evening, sir. Would you like chicken fricasee or beef casserole?”

        • Linnaeus

          “Good evening, sir. Would you like chicken fricasee or beef casserole?”

          If Paul gets those kinds of choices when he flies, he must fly with a pretty awesome airline, or perhaps first class on a lesser one. Because all I get offered are snack boxes and sandwiches, and those aren’t even included in the fare anymore.

        • alex284

          I’m pretty sure that the study you’re referring to came out after the Obesity Myth did. And I don’t think the point of that book was that it’s a myth that some people are bigger than others or that people are “blind dupes” for anything.

          And the TFA review was from a couple days ago and Campos’s ire was largely directed at Disney, not movie-goers. Some a the attempts to make SW philosophical to justify liking it as an adult, but that’s certainly not everyone.

          And what this all has to do with Goffman is beyond me (considering you don’t explain why, I’ll just guess that you don’t know either).

          But, um, nice use of caps lock? It totally makes you appear not-crazy?

    • alex284

      No, just that she doesn’t have the evidence to make that assertion. Seeing one person (assuming she did) get searched for who knows what reason is just plain not enough evidence to accuse the TSA of racial profiling.

      Some of us think that these issues are important and that the US’s long history of racism and racist violence is horrific. That makes us unlikely to enjoy someone using racism to make herself sound cool.

  • N__B

    Asfar as shell casing and the TSA, I had the experience last year of going through security at JFK for an international flight with a baggie of swages for joining cable in my bag. I was not shocked to find out that it had been searched, as the damned things look, under x-ray, exactly like shell casings.

    • alex284

      Now does that bag get searched every time because it has the memory of contrabandy stuff in it?

      • N__B

        It’s an acid-green nylon roll bag. I use it because I can find to on the carousel in about ten seconds and I don’t have to worry about anyone stealing it.

        I suspect the TSA is afraid of it because they think it’s radioactive.

  • Shantanu Saha

    Smart criminals police their brass if they have the chance (i.e. if they’re not running away at the time). So claiming to have spent shell casings in her bag gives Goffman the ability to suggest that:
    1) she has fired a gun or two in her time (possibly at another person).
    2) she had the presence of mind to pick up the casings afterward (and possibly courage, because she didn’t just run away after blasting a cap in someone’s ass).
    3a) she’s scatterbrained enough not to have disposed of the casings discreetly after the incident OR
    3b) she wanted to keep them as totems of her street toughness.

  • libarbarian

    On a Random Note:

    I’m actually surprised that the lower rungs of the mainstream RightWing press, like Breitbart, hasn’t picked up on the Alice Goffman story.

    It plays to their biases against:
    * “SJWs”
    * “Leftwing” academic disciplines
    * White girls who hang out with black guys (look at the new obsession with the label “cuck”).

    This “look of solidarity” shit would be the icing on their cake.

    • ASV

      As a Wisconsin alum with plenty of friends still there (though everyone I knew in sociology has since left), this is the other shoe I’m waiting to drop. It boggles my mind that Steve Nass hasn’t been shouting about this for months.

    • The Dark God of Time

      That would require them to use the facts and logical reasoning, which would be a new experience for them.

      It is telling that Instapundit linked to the NR story about her, but that’s about it, AFAIK.

      Many things in your good people cause me disgust, and verily, not their evil. I would that they had a madness by which they succumbed, like this pale criminal!

      Verily, I would that their madness were called truth, or fidelity, or justice: but they have their virtue in order to live long, and in wretched self-complacency.

      The Pale Criminal Also Sprach Zarathustra Fredrick Nietzsche

  • I’d like to emphasize that my criticisms of the book have nothing to do with any aversion to or skepticism about ethnography as a genre:

    This is a bit implausible (though which way the causality runs is unclear). I still await a response to my critique of your CHE article, but let’s consider the quote that prompted the critique:

    On the Run reveals flaws in the way social science in general, and ethnography in particular, is produced, evaluated, and rewarded. That those flaws managed to go largely unnoticed for so long reflects a troubling race-related blind spot among academic and media elites. The failure of On the Run is not only the failure of an individual book and author, but of the system that produced them.

    You may not have a problem with every bit of ethnography, but you clearly didn’t think that “On the Run” is sui generis.

    • Paul Campos

      The fact that OTR won the best diss award from the ASA, that AG got a contract from Chicago on the basis of her undergraduate thesis, that Princeton ended up allowing her to turn that thesis project into her dissertation project instead of requiring her to do something new, that her article based on a probably fabricated study ended up in the field’s top journal when she was still a graduate student, that OTR was turned into a trade best seller — all this can certainly be interpreted as an argument that the whole fiasco is sui generis.

      OTOH, OTR isn’t the first ethnography in recent years that has had questions raised both about its veracity, and whether it falls into what Victor Rios calls a “jungle book” trope.

      • Srsly Dad Y

        Plus that she is Erving Goffman’s child, which surely opened doors and attracted defenders to her.

  • ricegol

    I wasn’t aware of the NYT piece until Campos posted about it here. After reading it, I could only come to the conclusion that Mr. Lewis-Krauss initially set out to get inside Goffman’s HEAD and understand her repeated failure to address her critics head-on. that seemed to be the original intention.

    unfortunately, it seems that Lewis-Kraus became quite smitten with his subject and started following her around more as a lovestruck high schooler with a crush on his young English teacher rather than following her around in the role of journalist.

    at the risk of sounding a bit harsh, it seems Lewis-Krauss started out trying to get into Goffman’s head. but by the end his investigation/interviews, he seemed more interested in getting into Goffman’s pants.

  • so-in-so

    Isn’t this like the definition of “white privilege”? She sails through security, despite being worried that something in her bag might arouse suspicition. Having done so, she is disappointed that the POC who DOES get searched doesn’t acknowledge her “look of solidarity”. What solidarity, outside of her head? The fact that she briefly worried about facing the scrutiny that he actually had to face?

    I get this was a conversation with the reporter, not something written in the book; still, how to show you really don’t get the people you wrote about: claiming your internal angst about dealing with authority puts you on equal footing with people who face heightened scrutiny every day of their lives because if their ethnicity!

  • brad

    I suspect someone has already asked this by now, but I was struck by that passage for all sorts of reasons.
    Another is the idea that the man was stopped and his bags were searched because of his skin color. In no way shape or form would I knowingly attempt to avoid or deny the realities of racism, but there’s a number of things that don’t follow for me, here. I fly via JFK, not Newark, when I fly, so I can’t speak directly to the makeup of the TSA there, but I find that the TSA employs a very racially diverse group. That doesn’t mean there isn’t racial bias in how its power is used, but unless profiling of Muslim and Middle Eastern people is keeping other crimes from being noticed, which is entirely possible, it’s not something I’m familiar with as an issue that, say, BLM would find worth time. And it’s especially dubious to me because if he was indeed stopped for a bag search then the person looking at the monitor has no idea the race of the person attached to the bag, at least it’s clearly not a priority in the system’s structure that way.
    It’s an incredibly minor anecdote that in many ways isn’t worth this degree of scrutiny, but the way it seems shaped and crafted to fit both her preconceptions and to make it about how she is better than the system she’s essentially bragging about being there for her just raises all sorts of red flags for me. Particularly considering she’s already facing credible charges of being a fabulist.

    • alex284

      I googled a bit and it turns out that there are some accusations of racial profiling at the TSA (especially at miami) but not much to substantiate or clear those accusations.

      Officers are supposed to look for behavioral indicators of criminal intent and I wouldn’t be surprised if black and latino people’s behaviors were more often flagged because of unconscious racial bias (no matter the race of the TSA officer). OTOH, the tickets that get flagged for random searches and the bags that get pulled aside would probably be distributed independent of race.

      Maybe someone knows of a real study on this matter? Wikipedia has nothing.

      • brad

        I would expect that there are places the TSA might have bias, if only unconscious. Most of the time when I do fly I go to where my parents now live half the year in Florida. The TSA down there is spectacularly white, and incredibly polite and patient… to me. I haven’t seen any evidence of racial bias in my experiences there, but very obviously that means jack shit.
        But my suspicion, which is only that, is that Newark has a roughly comparable TSA employee pool to JFK.

        • brad

          And just to make clear, I’m not trying to defend the TSA, which only exists as we know it for security theater and giant corporate Federal contracts.

  • alex284

    All I’m thinking through all this is “OMG some white people do not like to admit that they’re privileged.”

    Goffman claims that anyone who criticizes her is dismissing voices of color and that one Bundy dude compared their demand for free land to BLM and John Roberts compared affirmative action to Jim Crow, etc. It all comes from the same place.

  • yupyup

    I’m late to commenting on these two posts, and I’m not planning to wade through the comments to see what’s been said.

    I’ve known GLK tangentially for years, and never liked him. But I think in Paul’s first post he accused GLK of not doing his journalistic duty and writing a puff piece. My take on that comment is that GLK is not a journalist, he’s a writer. Writing long puff pieces is what he does. He’s not a journalist, and I don’t think he intended his piece to find any truths.

    He’s a really smart fellow, but him writing on this issue was never going to be anything more than a puff piece.

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