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Confirmation bias and bias

Someone on the internet is wrong.  That someone is Melissa at Shakesville.

Earlier today, she tweeted about the case of the unfortunate mother who was jailed for leaving her 9 year old daughter to play at a local park while she was working.  You can read a commentary on this case at Reason by Lenore Skenazy of Freerangekids.com.  Melissa and I had a difference of opinion about this case.  She seems to think race was a factor in the mother’s arrest.  I do not.  Here’s why.

As Lenore has documented over the last several years, the arrest and detention of parents because their children were left unattended is ubiquitous.  There have been cases where a mother has been pursued by family services and taken to court for leaving her kids off at the mall with a 12 year old sibling.  There have been numerous cases of mothers arrested for leaving their kids in the car while they dash into the grocery store or post office for something.  There are many other cases of mothers getting fined and served and investigated for letting their children walk to school or ride their bikes by themselves. By the way, nowhere in Lenore’s commentary does she mention race as the reason for the arrest.  That’s because it’s not the common thread that holds these instances together.

I have two personal experiences with the rampant crackdown on mothers.  The first happened when Brook was in first grade when she innocently told a Lifeskills volunteer that I had forced her to drink wine.  When the principal called me to tell me he was calling DYFS on me, I had no idea what he was talking about.  Was the kid slurring her words?  Falling off her chair?  Asking for something to treat her hangover?  I don’t keep that much alcohol in my house.  What the hell was she talking about?  Then I remembered the Easter at my mom’s house when Brook had the zooms and was driving everyone crazy and I joked about giving her a swig of my chardonnay.  That was it.  That right there nearly got me a permanent record with the state of NJ and the potential lost custody of my daughter.

In the second experience, it was about 11 am on a Sunday in November when I got a knock on my door.  There were two policemen there.  They were responding to a report that there was a mentally disabled boy wearing an orange shirt, jeans and bare feet wandering around the neighborhood doing strange and suspicious things.  They asked me if I knew anything about it.  I had no idea what they were talking about.  Then they hinted darkly that they were on the alert for that kid and left.  Then I turned around and saw my 10 year old Brook with her short hair, orange shirt, jeans and bare feet standing in the doorway trembling.  What the heck were you doing, I asked?  She burst into tears.  She got up that morning and wanted to make an art project out of acorns.  So she went out to the back of our row of townhouses without her shoes on and was looking under the trees for them.  She was very upset and neither one of us could figure out which one of the neighbors was mean enough to report her for something like that.

Butcha know, people do it all the time.

As for the case that has hit the news, I have some problems with attributing this to a race problem.  First, we have no idea who reported the kid to the police.  Are we assuming that the conscientious citizen was white and was deliberately targeting an African American mother?  We have no evidence on this.  The report doesn’t say who did the snitching or what was the race of the arresting officers or even if such a thing would have mattered in the least.

Secondly, if this were a case of race, we would have to disregard the countless reports from women all over the world who have been put through the same process.  The perps come in all shapes, sizes, colors and socio-economic groups and the punishments are all pretty much the same.

But that doesn’t seem to stop people from assuming this is a race issue or that, yes, it is primarily directed at women but maybe it’s harder on African American women or some such nonsense.  If that’s what you want to see in this case, you would be a victim of confirmation bias.  You want to see a racial angle to this when it’s much more insidious than that.

If you had been a long time follower of Freerangekids, you would see that the problem emanates from “stranger danger”.  My bet is that the person who reported that kid neglected has been hearing a steady drumbeat of stories of violence against children ever since Fox and the local news channels figured out that their audiences loved to be terrified.  Like the anti-vaxxers, it is impossible to reason with these people, particularly older white women, that the rate of violent crime has actually done down in the past 30 years.  All they see are rapes and murders of little kids on TV 24/7.  Lenore points out that the chances that your kid will be snatched is infinitesimally small but people have a hard time reasoning when their logic boards have been short circuited by violent sexual imagery.  It’s emotional, not rational.  This is what I think has happened in this instance as well.  Little girl, left in park by herself for hours playing, something I would have done when I was her age, now looks like a sitting duck for any male who can walk by to prey upon her and satisfy his filthy secret lusts.  Where is her mother??

So, if it’s not race, what do these cases have in common?  They almost always involve mothers.  You rarely hear of a father getting this treatment.  These mothers are almost always in a hurry, alone, busy, sometimes single or divorced, or simply ignorant of the unlikely possibility that their kids are going to be snatched.  What they aren’t is sheltering their children 100% of the time with their bodies, protecting with a maternal force field 10 feet wide at all hours of the day and night.  I’ve even read on some blogs that new mothers are afraid to take a shower while their newborns are sleeping because “something might happen” while they’re shampooing their hair. How did homo erectus escape the savannah??

We might speculate why the current culture in America, England and Australia, in particular, are coming down so hard on mothers but since Fox and other cable news sources seem to be popular media features in each of these countries, we can’t discount the idea that the effect that so many child rape/murder stories have on the audience is intentional.  Couple this with the attack on women’s reproductive choices and it sure looks to me like someone(s) is trying to get women to embrace motherhood or else… That is the message they send anyway.  We come down on mothers like a hammer if they step even a teensy bit outside the rigid rules of acceptable behavior that are prescribed to them.  If women give up their careers to stay home, it shouldn’t be surprising that they find it too hard to be the bodyguards to their children and work too.  Socially, they need to project full engagement with their children even when those kids don’t need it or be tagged the “bad mother” on the block.  If you’re the kind of mother who doesn’t care what people think, you may change your tune when DYFS pays you a visit.

As for women vs race, I got a little annoyed with Melissa when it was suggested that somehow we need to spread the problem around to include race.  Aren’t African American women still women?  And don’t women have the right to demand attention to the tribulations they face without having to sweep up every fricking non-priviliged group in their train?  Doesn’t that dilute the issues that women have to deal with simply because they are women?  Isn’t it about time for the African American community, the LGBT community, the Native American community to give something back?  Isn’t it time women stopped apologizing and sacrificing their primary concerns as women in order to let some other group steal the microphone?  Isn’t it enough that the accused in these cases are just women?? I only ask.

Well, I guess this makes me a racist again because I see no reason to stop championing the cause of the majority of people in the world who neglect themselves for the sake of others. Nor am I going to give in to confirmation bias because that is what my tribe would expect of me.  That’s what NOW and NARAL have done in the past and where are they now?  Seriously, where ARE they?  Why aren’t they all over these arrests?  Or did they cede too much to others and neutralize themselves?

The instances of arrest for “bad” motherhood are not going to end until women start to recognize it as another threat to their autonomy.


Only slightly off topic, this advertisement from Pantene struck a chord with me.  How many times a day do women apologize and what makes us do it?


Finally, please remember that the word racism is not to be taken lightly lest it lose it’s true and serious meaning.  Use of the word will result in automatic moderation until I can fish you out of the queue.  It’s a leftover from 2008 but still a useful one.


23 Responses

  1. This whole thing gets worse and worse.

    I wonder if we’ll reach the point where families have to (by law) hire ’round the clock nannies because it’s impossible for one mom to do the job. Maybe a nanny for every kid (walking around taking their temperatures and holding their backpacks)

  2. I sometimes think there is some evil genius club that comes up with this stuff to influence society. The alternative, that there are just a WHOLE bunch of judging mean people freaks me out worse.

    I did not read Melissa’s post but maybe she has not personally experienced the constant judgment and failure of being a “mommy”.

    • OR she thinks smother mothering is the default and the only people who should be excused are African American women with low incomes and no one to watch the kids. THAT is frightening to me, that anyone would think that this kind of militant enforced motherhood that we all must succumb to is in any way normal except to the poor unfortunate women of color. First, it’s insulting and patronizing to women of color. Second, it completely misses the bigger picture.

    • She hasn’t.

  3. I can remember when Shakesville was a fun place to visit, especially the “Virtual Pub” on Friday nights. Fuhgeddabowdit now… 😦

    • Sadly, it’s a place where using a phrase like “she turned a blind eye” or “what a lame excuse” will earn you a virtual Stalinist show trial.

      • I know Melissa has been a felony victim, but when I started off at Shakesville, she wasn’t allowing her justified rage over that to turn her into a dime-store Maleficent.

  4. Interestingly enough these cases are assumed to be about race by many people. I remember on the news a white mother left her kid in the truck of her car at the mall while she worked in one of the stores . At a restaurant that night I over heard a black couple ( well , the woman ) speak of it. Her last comment was ” if she was black , you know and I know they would have arrested her “

    • They arrest everyone these days. These are not new cases. it’s been going on for years, since about the mid 1990’s. I told Melissa to go to Skenazy’s site to see just what we’re talking about but I think she only skimmed the surface. I’ve been following freerangekids for years and there is definitely, without a shadow of a doubt, a crackdown on parents, particularly mothers, with zero tolerance for any behavior that does not show 100%, 24/7 protection for a kid. It’s pretty unreal but like others have said, if you’re not a mother, you really have no idea. And it’s so common now that what mothers did in the 60’s looks completely irresponsible and negligent today. My own mother would have served several sentences by now.

      • Locking people up is profitable now, gotta keep the jails full… 👿

      • I agree . I was allowed to be simply be gone all day, many hours, just be home for dinner… Today every parent is harassed as you were and every kid is one goofy act from a rap sheet.

        But you got a phone call and was allowed to explain your way out of the perceived mishap …and the cops did not demand to interrogate Brook seeing the color of her shirt …I think it’s reasonable to believe that may not have been the case if you and she were black..or in a poorer section of town . It’s poverty too , not simply race . The speed of the ” justice” is a bit swifter in such cases imo

        Now that we are all , black or white, getting poorer many more are experiencing the arrest first ask questions later approach …

        • I disagree with you there. Take the example of the mom in Montana who was arrested and investigated by family services. All she did was drop her kids off at a mall, one of them was a 3 year old in a stroller, with two Red Cross trained 12 year old babysitters. She was white, an academic who worked at the local university and she couldn’t talk her way out of the charges. It cost her family over a year and thousands of dollars of court and lawyer fees. They wore her down to the point that she settled out of court and had to attend mandatory parenting classes. I’m not sure what else was attached to her sentence. She had to put up with family services dropping in on her. It was ridiculous. And all for what? It was all because she was tired one afternoon and the kids were going stir crazy stuck inside. So she did a totally normal thing and her kids got busted because the 12 year olds decided to try on some clothes in a dressing room and left the 3 yr old with a pair of 8 yr old siblings.
          Please note that the FATHER of these children was not charged. He wasn’t the one who drive them to the mall. It was the mother who got nailed. And she wasn’t black.

        • Btw, I was not at all sure the principal was going to drop the issue. He was very insistent that I explain to him just what the hell I thot I was doing forcing chard down my kid’s throat. I was on the phone for about an hour trying to convince him that the kid was embellishing a very slight nothing of a story and that the life skills people were busy bodies. Besides, what could he actually report? That a kid told an unbelievable story? Was she ever drunk? Did he have any proof whatsoever that anything had actually occurred? No. He HAD to drop it.
          These other arrests happened when something actually happened. What happened to these other people did not rise to the level of any crime we are familiar with but at least there was a “victim” and a “perpetrator”. I think if my kid had shown any signs of even excess sleepiness, I would have gotten the same treatment. Fortunately for me, she was always wired. They should have accused me of giving her meth but that would have been laughable. I’m as clean as a whistle.

          • An hour?? Lord

            ” Troubled ” kids are a profit stream. I do have mother friends ( that sounds lame lol ) and one told me much of her parent/ teacher meetings is keeping her just fine kid out of the school shrink’s office… they see little billy is someone’s pay check waiting to happen …but she does it as you did… by standing up to them

  5. I read an interesting story about a new kind of chlidren’s park in England where parents are neither wanted nor needed.

  6. “You rarely hear of a father getting this treatment.”

    Well that’s probably because any adult male within 1/2 mile of a child is presumed to be a pedophile, so the chance of a father being in a circumstance where he might get this treatment is essentially nil.

    • true
      I think my broader point, which does not seem to have transferred well, is that this problem of penalizing parents, especially mothers, has been building steadily over the past couple of decades to a real crisis but it’s only when an african american mother or two gets publicity do Melissa and her friends get a clue. And then only to lament the problem as one of r@ce when it’s primarily a matter of gender.
      So, I guess I’m trying to say that she needs to be paying more attention and stop thinking that everything is a result of r@cism or fat bias. It’s not all about her or African Americans. There ARE other discriminated groups out there the biggest one being half of the human race.

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