Racial Issues are Real – Your Arguments are Invalid

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In this ever divisive society, exacerbated by the sounding board that is the Internet, there have been a lot of arguments against movements to help racial disparities in society. Most of the arguments against these movements are from White individuals who espouse a variety of perceptions and beliefs why the other side is wrong. Sadly, many of these arguments are based in ignorance or logical fallacy, supporting a maladapted schema about racial issues. Here are some of the most common claims and why they hold no water…

  • All Lives Matter

One of the biggest arguments against the Black Lives Matter movement is that the name itself is divisive and racist. After all, shouldn’t all lives matter? Are supporters claiming that Black lives are more important than the other races?

The problem is that latter question is a strawman. No one is saying that Black lives are more important; instead, they’re bringing attention to the fact that society seems to treat Black lives with less importance. Statistically, the race that is most likely to be killed are African-Americans, whether by police, medical reasons, etc. This disparity is often tied to societal practices and systems, whether it’s profiling by law enforcement and non-Blacks, unequal treatment by judicial systems, the prevalence of poverty and crime in Black neighborhoods, or a lack of proper treatment for mental and physical illnesses.

When someone wants to remind people that “Black lives matter”, they’re attempting to bring attention to this disparity and the underlying causes. Supporters are saying that the attention needed for Black issues is more important than other demographics, not the Black lives themselves. “Oh, but you just admitted it, they want more attention!” Well… yes. Why wouldn’t they? There’s a cartoon that easily explains this…

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As you can see, those who are suffering more deserve more attention. Whites are not statistically more likely to be killed; even Asians and Latinos fare better, with Middle Easterners only beginning to face similar problems because of Islamophobia. This doesn’t mean that each group doesn’t have its own problems, but that the biggest problems require more help. If you have a group of people with one cut, one shot, and the rest are untouched… who should the EMT look at first? Would you try and suggest the people standing around unharmed, require attention? “I’m sorry, but could you please stop and talk to me as I’m suffering mental distress from witnessing this incident. I mean, we all matter equally, don’t we?”

Black lives matter because they are currently the ones suffering the most. They’re not more important than other races, but their situation generally is.

  • Every Race can be Racist

This isn’t exactly untrue, as the literal definition of the term racism is objective and doesn’t care about the perpetrator. You can find individuals of any race who espouse beliefs or practice behaviors that race is a determinant of characteristics and/or a race is inferior (or superior) to others. What this ignores, however, is the influence of racist acts on society by certain demographics (historically and currently).

Even if 50% of Whites practiced racism and 50% of Blacks did the same, what impact would each have on society and its systems? 110 million Whites that discriminate against 38 million Blacks, in a society where Blacks are at a disadvantage… versus 17 million Blacks who might discriminate against 220 million Whites in that same societal system. The only way it would be close to equal numerically would be if 100% of Blacks were anti-White and only 17% of Whites felt the same way. Given recent polling data, I highly doubt that sort of mentality is equal, and that’s still ignoring the fact that the majority of people in positions of authority (from legislators to judges) are White. Which is where structural racism, as opposed to individual acts, comes into play…

In sociology, and similar academics, there is a different definition of racism as a societal structure that makes the “playing field” unfair for certain races. Some demographics do not have adequate representation and often suffer under unequal institutional policies. They may be subject to stereotypes, labels, and (conscious or subconscious) reactions based on these generalizations and misperceptions. These problems are not just on an individual level but ingrained in society as a whole, thanks to generations of societal norms and continued inaction by those in positions of authority. This is why racism cannot be “reversed”, because a single racist act by a Black against a White is nothing compared to the structure of a society where Blacks experience systemic racism on a daily basis.

So, yes, every person can be racist regardless of race. Yet that doesn’t mean that African-Americans don’t have it worst when it comes to the racism game, from simply being outnumbered to being subject to a complex societal structure that puts them at a constant disadvantage. That’s why “racism” in this country generally runs one way, at least on a societal level.

  • Africans were Guilty of Slavery Too

Now that we’ve explained why Black lives matter and how the system of racism generally puts Blacks at a disadvantage, we get to the next misinformed arguments. That usually involves historical examples of how Blacks treated themselves or the subjugation of other demographics. Of course, this is all irrelevant as it doesn’t address the problems African-Americans face today or the sources of those issues. That being said, let’s look at the first of two common historical arguments: the actions of Africans.

Historically, much of the African slave trade originated in Africa by Africans. This is an indisputable truth and no one denies this practice (that is still common in war-torn countries even today). Of course, it ignores several historical truths that put the slave trade of the Americas into a different context when compared to the practice of slavery throughout historical Africa.

Prior to the presence of foreigners, African slavery was a varied practice where slaves were treated as anything from future tribal members to third-class citizens. Often these slaves were sold through commerce or won through conquests, yet in the end they were still treated with some sense of humanity. This ingrained a certain expectation that when a slave was sold to someone else, they’d be treated in the same manner as the seller’s culture. Things would change, however, when slaves were taken or traded to foreign powers.

Starting with the Arabic invasions that brought slaves to northern Africa and the Middle East, some slaves were treated as disposable labor or soldiers. Still, even with the wars and expansions of these kingdoms, slaves still held onto cultures and were treated as human (even if lesser). It wasn’t until the rise of the European powers that slavery took on a new face, treating enslaved Africans like chattel and beasts of burden. Africans probably thought their fellows would be kept similar to their own culture, not squeezed into ships, tortured into submission, and discarded like refuse.

So yes, Africans sold slaves to Europeans and no one is excusing that unethical cultural practice. However, few expected them to be treated like animals or objects. The atrocities committed during the European slave trade rivaled those committed during the genocide of the indigenous American peoples, and laid the groundwork for future prejudices and the structural racism of American society.

  • The Irish were Slaves Too

A more recent argument, that is even more fallacious, is the discussion of enslaved Irish. Like the discussion of the African slave trade, this is based on fact without considering the context or consequences. During the 17th through 19th centuries, Britain invaded and oppressed Ireland, murdering or enslaving most of its people. Many Irish were shipped to plantations in the Caribbean, where they initially were even interbred with the African slaves (explaining the many slaves of mixed-heritage). Although these practices were later curbed, the process of enslaving the Irish wasn’t abolished until 1839 and hundreds of thousands had been through the same experiences as Africans.

Although atrocious, the comparative experiences and lasting consequences are far different for each population. Hundreds of thousands of Irish are compared to millions of Africans, who were being shipped overseas two centuries earlier and who experienced consequences long after their emancipation in 1863. African slaves were far more widespread, outnumbered Irish at least 20-to-1 and had been enslaved for so long their culture was all but forgotten.

Another big difference is that, upon freedom, those descended from Irish alone could blend right back into society… only linguistics and culture divided them from the rest of the Euro-dominant world. Despite some continued prejudice during the immigrations of the later 19th century, by the early 20th most Irish were part of the majority culture and just another part of the White demographic. By the modern era, Irish heritage is often displayed as a badge of pride and celebrated annually by people of all types.

Compare that to African-Americans, who created a demographic unto themselves because of a difference in skin color. After “freedom” they still struggled for acceptance and equal opportunity, facing White supremacists, Jim Crow segregation, fights for civil rights, the loss of their original culture, and stereotyping in everything from civilian society to law enforcement. Even into the 21st century, Blacks still face discrimination and unequal treatment. Can anyone honestly compare the post-slavery experiences of Irish and Blacks and claim they are equal?

So, once more, yes… factually the existence of Irish slaves is completely true. Yet, comparatively, the experience was nothing compared to African slaves. In addition, the descendants of the latter still face consequences compared to the pride and normalization of those of Irish descent. In fact, those modern experiences are why historical events are of little consequence when discussing racism today.

  • I’m not Racist

This is a catch-all for a variety of self-assurances that the individual arguing against equality movements is not a racist. “I never owned slaves or treated a Black person poorly”, “I don’t see color”, “I have Black friends”, and any number of claims are spouted to point out how non-racist the individual is… all to justify their arguments. After all, if the individual arguing against these movements is not a racist, then their argument (no matter how ignorant or fallacious) must be just as valid as the movements themselves.

This may even be coupled with talks about what the person has gone through. “I’ve experienced racism and know what it’s like”, “I’m poor, and therefore I have no privilege”, etc. are all used to deny a society-wide problem because of individual anecdotes. Since the claimant has suffered at some point in their life, they’re on the same level as anyone else who’s suffered… right?

What the claimant seems to not notice is the very egocentrism of their own words. Notice what word they use? “I”… repeatedly. It’s all about what they did, rather than discussing what others do or the inherent unfairness of society itself. This is the crux of most arguments, as the person only wants to think about the immediate picture rather than expand their schema to include a larger picture and their role in it.

A popular movie quote stated, “Now, we must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of good men.” By ignoring one’s position in society, including one’s advantages, authority, and participation in unfair systems, the individual becomes just as culpable as those who flagrantly practice racist beliefs and behaviors. In essence, the claimant contributes to racism by refusing to acknowledge racism.

So, while you might not be racist, that doesn’t mean your perceptions and actions don’t contribute to racist systems and policies. Not to mention, when people talk about these issues, it’s not all about you.

  • I Shouldn’t be Forced to Feel Guilt

This last is not so much as an argument against racial equality movements, but a general statement that crops up. When you attempt to confront someone arguing against racial issues, they fall back on how you are trying to make them feel guilty when they did nothing wrong. Interestingly, this emotion they feel has nothing to do with what you are doing and everything to do with their own psychological mechanisms.

An individual who experiences a disparity between what they believe and reality, often suffer a form of psychological distress known as cognitive dissonance. They cannot handle the difference between their worldview and the facts in front of them, so they experience emotions similar to guilt. This often triggers psychological defense mechanisms including minimization (“Racism is not that big an issue”), denial (“It’s not happening around here”), and projection (“You’re the one that keeps bringing up race!”).  Thus, when confronted with a societal reality (wherein they have an advantage), they resort to fallacious and ignorant statements.

Here’s the thing… no one is saying you should feel guilt. If you feel guilt it’s probably because you are experiencing some sort of mental distress when faced with these issues. Which is good! No one should look at the disparity of how society treats African-Americans and feel positive. They should be upset, outraged, or any other negative emotion. That’s normal!

What’s not normal is then choosing to deny the issue and make all sorts of claims why it’s not an issue. That’s just plain ignorant… and ignorance is a major factor behind society-wide racism.

Why You’re Probably “Privileged”

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One of the most frustrating topics to discuss is the concept of “privilege”. Far too many people can’t seem to grasp this word, especially those who have it. I usually see the following arguments why the term doesn’t apply:

1) “I’m poor and struggling, therefore I’m not privileged.”

There is a tendency to equate privilege solely with money or economic class. Wealth is but a single factor in whether you are privileged or not, and not having money doesn’t mean you aren’t privileged. You can be poor and still have an advantage over others just as you can be wealthy and disadvantaged. For example, a homeless man probably doesn’t have to worry about rape every time he sleeps in an alleyway compared to his female counterpart. Similarly, there are anecdotes of rich African-Americans being followed in stores, something their White counterparts (even with lesser money) don’t have to deal with.

2) “I’ve experienced X social stigma in the past because of my faith or social status, therefore I’m not privileged.”

Too many times people equate privilege with whether you are (or have been) disadvantaged. Quite simply, you cannot negate privilege because of a lack in other areas; you still maintain some form of advantage regardless of the disadvantage from others. For example, you can be female (a disadvantaged category in a male-dominant society) and still have advantage because of the color of your skin. Even more blatant are White, male “nerds” who are ignorant of their advantage from the first two categories because of perceived disadvantage in the latter.

Privilege is defined as, “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people”. Note that this definition is neither contingent on a single advantage nor a lack of disadvantage. Think of privilege as a variety of factors, some of which hold more weight than others depending on the social norms. Race, gender, sexual orientation & identity, culture, religion, and (of course) wealth all play a role in whether you are privileged… and some moreso than others. How so? Well, it is far easier to not express religion than it is to hide ones sexual orientation… and racial features are almost impossible to hide (and usually the most divisive).

The next time you deny or question your own privilege, ask yourself this: is there something about one of my classifications that makes my life easier compared to people of others? You may be poor, but are you treated like other poor people of a different gender? You may be female, but have you experienced constant bias or restriction just because of the color of your skin? You may be pagan, but do you have the freedom to express and participate in yourself that is denied to those of another sexual orientation or identity?

Think about the classifications that apply to you, whether they are subject to biased treatment, and the intensity or likelihood of said bias. Tally up how much you might hold in advantage over others, giving more weight to certain categories. If you hold more advantage than disadvantage in majority society… you might just be privileged.

A Dystopian Utopia

Diversity in the 80's and 90's

I said I would discuss the visions my peers and I had of a racially and ethnically mixed future. These ideas have affected my perceptions of recent behavior among younger individuals that I consider extreme and divisive. I wondered if this was something unique to myself or an open-mindedness held by my “generation”. I say that last term loosely, because we are considered Generation X yet most of us are caught somewhere between them and those that follow. The events of my age cohort, plus personal experiences, have likely created a unique outlook on these issues…

First, let’s start with my home life. I was raised in a Caucasian suburban household by Caucasian parents from Caucasian families. One side came from rural, working-class Western New York… the other were middle-class transplants from New York City out to the country. One common tie between both was high intelligence and a focus on education. Both parents were college educated and so were my maternal grandparents; although my paternal grandparents weren’t, they were both smart individuals and my grandfather was a jack-of-all-trades and generalist. I lay this out to show that the first things my families taught weren’t racism or division, but to be open to learning and to think critically about everything. Despite starting my life in a predominantly Caucasian culture, I never thought about race or ethnicity until much later. The color of someone’s skin or the accent of their words were no different than their height or whether they were left-handed.

Flash forward to growing up in a suburb of Washington, DC where the demographics were about to experience a major shift. All through the 80’s I’d grown up knowing mostly Caucasian kids from my neighborhood but being just as friendly with anyone. Despite being bussed to schools in poor Black neighborhoods, my interactions were mostly confined to my gifted programs and I still was ignorant of any divide. A friend was a friend, regardless of their race or ethnicity; by the time I was in Middle School, I had friends who were Black, Asian, and Indian and that was just who they were.

The late 80’s, early 90’s saw a serious shift, not only in my environment but in my experience. Prince George’s County changed from 37% to 51% Black almost overnight as families moved out from Washington, DC. Unfortunately, instead of blending together, a great “White Flight” occurred, with areas that used to be mixed suddenly dominated by African-American residents. Many of these were working class or poverty-stricken families, and with them followed negative changes. Shopping centers began catering solely to Black clientele, youth participation in gangs and drugs caused crime to rise in quiet suburban neighborhoods, and a venomous attitude toward Whites created a hostile environment. A new cultural movement taught African-Americans not to mix with Whites, but instead to look down upon them and cling to the African cultures that were stolen from them.

At this point, I was being bussed into a school that was 90% Black. Peers who had long been friends would no longer talk to me because of the color of my skin. I was physically attacked in my own neighborhood because a new Black gang had moved in and were asserting their dominance over the remaining White kids. In my High School I sat through classes, the only Caucasian student, as a Black guest speaker would spit vitriol toward Whites the likes of which Malcolm X would cringe at. We even had one teacher who liked to play Spike Lee movies on half days, just to kill time. I watched as other students refused to stand for the National Anthem but would jump up and roar loudly for “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, apparently ignorant of the “every” part of that title. Until I found my place and friends, I even experienced physical assaults on my person all because my race offended someone.

You would think this would drive any sane person to the same extremes being doled out. Instead, the end of High School sparked a new trend: alternative cultures. I ended up finding my place with a motley crew of artists, druggies, metalheads, punks, and other outcasts. Although still primarily Caucasian, there was room for everyone to smoke a cigarette and talk about the detritus of life. I met one of my best friends at that wall, an African-American woman who became my twin in so much and remains so to this day. This environment showed that we could all unite together under a single culture, regardless of race, sexual orientation, religion, etc. and sparked a new vision of the future. I wasn’t the only one who saw it, as many of these same people are still my friends today and hold the same beliefs.

As college opened up, I began to embrace the alternative lifestyles that were open to everyone. I was not a White suburban kid, I was a pagan metalhead and my friends joined me regardless of their skin tone. Alcohol (and more) flowed free at social gatherings and I found that race didn’t matter when you were working minimum wage jobs and just wanted to have a good time. My worlds expanded to areas long thought off limits racially. I would spend all night at a music festival in Baltimore, chill at a friend’s house in the tenements on Eastern Avenue, and ride with some people to pick stuff up on SouthEastern DC. Sure, I recognized the difference between my race and those around me, but to those hanging together and partying it didn’t matter. We all walked, talked, and dressed alike, no one giving a second thought to that individual of a different skin tone.

During this time, the 90’s roared on, with Hollywood and music reflecting our vision of the future. Crime, goth, and cyberpunk movies showed blended cities, where the working class and poor consisted of all races and ethnicity. The only divide was between the haves and have-nots, and my circles envisioned a society where we railed against the corporate masters… not each other. Music blended, with rock and rap, country and pop, and electronica invading everything. There was no white or black music, anyone could rise in any genre and all music could find its mix. Our language reflected this, with no “Ebonics” or “AAVE”, but instead a language we referred to as “DC” or “PG”. Dialect was not based on skin tone or ethnicity but on location and experience. When we looked to the future we knew we had a lot of bleak problems, but racism was not supposed to be one of them.

Move on to today, and suddenly racism is back in the topic. A half-Black President brings the worst out in people, sparking more outrage and lies from opponents than any previous office holder. Courts in southern states defend perpetrators of race-based crime, when you thought they’d learn their lessons decades prior. In the midst of this, many younger generations become so outraged they retort with similar behavior, creating further racial and cultural divides in the name of “holding on to their heritage”. They claim people aren’t allowed to talk or act like them, because it’s “appropriation” and deride those who don’t agree with their vitriol or isolation. Worse, they claim that the sins of European colonization past preclude any Caucasians from having valid complaints or opinions… and in so doing, end up guilty of the same behavior they rail against.

What happened to that vision of my age cohort? This blending of races, ethnicity, etc. into a singular entity. We were separate based on beliefs or finances, never on the color of our skin or our heritage. Yet suddenly the divide comes back and we stand here, confused at the behavior not only of the racists that lied dormant for decades but also at our own younger peers who seem to oppose a blended society as vehemently as White supremacists. Is there hope to move past this momentary set back and return to a unified path? My hope is that our vision isn’t dead but simply waylaid by other issues. Resolve those and once more the concept of Black, White, Asian, etc. culture will fade and we’ll go back to joining as a singular, global society. Oh, it won’t be perfect, full of environmental disasters and corporate greed, but it will be our own little dystopian utopia as far as race is concerned.