Four LAPD squad cars pulled up in front of my house, lights flashing. Why?
It turned out that the middle-aged divorced dad who had recently rented the house down the block had misplaced his keys and tried to break in through his window. A neighbor who hadn’t met the newcomer saw him and called in a burglary report. The cops rolled up in force, the renter identified himself, and the police went away.
Admittedly, this is a boring anecdote.
After all, these kinds of false-alarm Type I errors—false-positive calls to the cops to investigate a person who turns out to be law-abiding—happen countless times per day in this vast country of ours. So do Type II errors: false negatives of failing to alert the police in cases of a genuine lawbreaker.
Yet, if you’ve been reading the newspapers lately, you might be asking: Shouldn’t this story I saw out my window have been national news? Isn’t the press currently on the warpath to shame anybody who ever calls the police in error?
In fact, though, this wasn’t even local news.
Why not? Because the poor guy who lost his keys was white.
When everybody involved is white (or Asian), it’s not news.
If the suspected burglar had been black, however, you might well have read all about it by now.
Ever since the Starbucks bathroom crisis in April, America has been going through a media moral panic in which a white man (or, more often, a white woman) who commits a Type I error at the expense of a black person may lose his job and be permanently keelhauled in the press.
Here are recent examples of this media mania from The New York Times:
A black student at Yale was napping in a common area, and someone called the police. It’s the latest instance of a police response to a minor complaint involving people of color.
A California woman called the police after she saw people she didn’t recognize in her neighborhood. They were just black Airbnb guests. One was Bob Marley’s granddaughter.
The president of Nordstrom Rack flew to St. Louis to apologize to three black friends who were falsely accused of trying to steal clothing at one of the company’s stores.
White Woman Called Out for Racially Targeting Black Men Having BBQ in Oakland
A white woman who in a widely shared video appeared to call the authorities on an 8-year-old black girl for “illegally selling water without a permit” claimed on Monday that she had acted out of frustration, not racial animus.
Adam Bloom, seen in a video posted on Facebook, was fired from his job after he called the police on a black woman at a pool in a private community.
First, there was BBQ Becky. Then came Permit Patty. Now, a South Carolina woman has been nicknamed Pool Patrol Paula after a widely shared video showed her accosting a black boy and his friends at a neighborhood pool, telling them to “get out” or she would call the police.
With the respectable NYT having given the okay that this variety of trivial fluff is respectable national news, the tabloids are now jumping in. Not surprisingly, the parameters of this variety of story are expanding to cover just about anything anyone said to dis anybody else. The police don’t need to be involved, as long as there is an identity-politics angle to help you grasp immediately who is the Good Guy and who is the Bad Guy (or, typically, Bad Gal).
For example, the New York Post headlined on Monday:
Video shows Harvard research head confronting woman, biracial child
This story of two moms in an apartment complex getting snippy with each other makes my tedious LAPD anecdote above sound like the sinking of the Titanic for newsworthiness:
“I’m sitting here because you’re preventing my children from sleeping. Would you like me to do that to your kids?” said Lund, wearing a purple T-shirt, running shorts and her hair tied back.
Laliberte answered: “Who is even watching your kids right now. Are you? Cause you’re not, you’re here with me and my kid.”
That’s when Lund, who is white, accused Laliberte of being poor.
“Are you one of the affordable units? Or are you one of the Harvard units?” Lund said in the video that’s been viewed more than 9,500 times by Monday night.
Both women appear to be more or less white, but one woman has a biracial child, so that gives her Intersectional Pokémon Points:
“It was totally discriminating and racist of her…or maybe it was because my daughter is biracial who knows,” Laliberte wrote on Facebook….
The incident is the latest in a string of confrontations involving a white person accusing a black person of not belonging in a particular setting.
In an increasingly feminized media culture, this is what passes for breaking news: two moms squawking over status somewhere.
And, admittedly, this kind of story is pretty easy and entertaining to have an opinion on which stranger is right and which is wrong. You don’t have to know anything or think very hard, just react. In the 10,000 or so years that humans have lived in villages, we’ve gotten into these sorts of tiffs trillions of times.