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.

Race Exists (Whether You Acknowledge It or Not)

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Dear White friends,

I know you want to live in a utopia where race doesn’t matter. Every time the discussion comes up, you say, “Well, I don’t see color.” When there’s a riot or a speech by some activist, you decry them as the racist. “You’re the one bringing it up, making it all about race.” You sincerely believe that if we just stop labeling, accusing, or thinking about the topic, it will go away.

Well, you’re wrong. Race exists, and is important, whether you like it or not.

At the very least, it’s a factor that makes someone different. Maybe it’s physical, like someone who is left-handed, short, or deaf. You don’t ignore these aspects when you know someone, so why would you ignore their race? Maybe it doesn’t come up all the time, or it’s the butt of friendly jokes, or it’s a serious part of their lives. Yet it exists and people have to acknowledge it. You don’t ask your short friend to get something off the shelf or tell someone deaf to go to concerts; why would you tell your Black friend to not worry about situations where skin color matters?

On the other hand, maybe it’s an intricate part of their lives, rooted in culture, history, and development. “Race” is a social construct, as we’re all the same species, consisting of physical features, historical occurrences, cultural ties, and individual experiences. Someone who is Native American is more than their looks; their development may be influenced by the ancient teachings of their nation, historic oppression, modern poverty, and their personal views and relationships. If you ignore “race”, you are denying more than their skin color; you are ignoring history, society, and self-identity.

So, that makes me a “racist” because I refuse to ignore that factor? Well, no.

Racism occurs when you take those differences and aspects, and use them to denigrate another. Racists use “race” to label others inferior while making themselves appear superior. They use labels, traits, and culture ties in a harmful, exclusive manner. (There’s also “positive” stereotypes, which still constitutes a form of racism, but that’s a topic for another time).

You can acknowledge race, and all that comes with it, without being “racist”. All you’re doing is saying, “Oh, you’re different; maybe I should think before I say or do something based on that difference.” You already do this for friends because of their personal experiences or beliefs, so why wouldn’t you do it because of race? Why would you avoid casual use of the word “rape” around a victim, but think it’s acceptable to use the N-word because “Black people do it”? If you can support LGBT-rights, because they’re born that way, why is it so hard to acknowledge higher rates of police brutality against those born with non-Caucasian skin?

Now, of course there are those who try to argue about racism because they feel it’s been flipped back on White people. “If you give special treatment to Blacks or Latinos, then you’re a racist!” These same people often ignore the concept of equity versus equality, a topic I posted about in-depth before. The goal is to provide everyone with an equal opportunity, and that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone is treated the same. Someone with a handicap needs accommodations to be able to do the things the abled can already do. The same is true for non-Whites in America, where they require things like race-based organizations, advocacy groups, months focusing on their history, and laws that discourage racist practices… all so they can get the same opportunities that Whites usually have. It’s not racism to require special treatment so non-Whites can have equal chances and to level the playing field; these are done because of racism, even if new problems may arise.

Also, that doesn’t mean that all Whites have opportunity and equity. There are still many other factors besides race that can cause oppression and injustice. Economy, crime, politics, etc. can all cause problems, and even the aforementioned race-based legislation or organizations may contribute (whether accidentally or not). The point of racial acknowledgement is not to deny the issues faced by others because of class, faith, etc… but to focus on the very real issues that exist because of race.

Also important is this: no one is asking you to feel guilt over racial issues because you’re White. Do you feel guilt because you can reach the top shelf and your wife can’t? Do you take it personally whenever a Sarah McLachlan ad about animals comes on? Well, you shouldn’t necessarily feel guilt… but I certainly hope you still feel. You acknowledge something in those cases, from the smallest home problem to the largest social issue, and you probably act. You buy a footstool for the height challenged or you feel anger or sadness at pet abuse. If you can recognize these issues, experience some sort of non-guilt emotion, and possibly change your perception or actions… why is it so hard to do the same because of racial issues?

The point of acknowledgement is not to continue the racial divide, make an issue out of a non-issue, or “oppress the majority”. The whole purpose of racial recognition is to help create a better society, one that is more open-minded and inclusive and strives to prevent racism. By sticking our heads in the sand and turning our back on the issue as if it doesn’t exist, we only contribute to the problem. A popular movie once said, “there is another kind of evil which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of good men.”

Dear White friends, no one is denying your experiences, your problems, or your identity. So, why would you do that to others?

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.

The Untouchable Nature of America’s Police

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Recently there has been a disturbing trend where police officers involved in questionable, and possibly illegal behaviors, have been able to avoid so much as an indictment. Many people think this means they were found “not guilty”, but it’s even worse than that. An indictment is not confirmation of a defendant’s guilt, it’s simply an accusation that the individual might be guilty, and thus the case is worthy of being looked at in a court of law. The indicted individual remains “innocent until proven guilty” but there is the possibility of a wrongdoing.

This is why recent events are so frustrating. If we can’t even accuse a police officer of wrongdoing, whether from witness testimony (no matter how conflicting) or from outright recorded video of questionable behavior… how can you guarantee anyone’s freedom or safety? None of these attempts at grand juries would have convicted anyone, they just would have stated the situation was questionable and the courts should look into it. Instead, though, the officers in question (who may have had histories of similar or related behavior) are able to walk free without so much as an allegation on their record.

Sadly, I blame this on two factors:

1) Nepotism – Courts need the police to cooperate. Sometimes this is done amicably, other times it’s done through favors. And what better favor than to not even try to indict a cop? Thus the criticism in one recent case about the prosecutor not even trying to prosecute and actually doing the defense’s job for them. This quid pro quo approach combines with the “Brothers in Blue” mentality, maintaining an unethical and broken system that rarely convicts one if its own. Who watches the watchers, especially when those who would refuse to do so?

2) Ignorance – Too many people in the majority have no critical thought and objectivity when it comes to social issues. Whether refusing to accept their “privileged” positions in society, unable to see their own bias, or simply incapable of seeing beyond their own white-washed world… these individuals are the worst people to make decisions about these sorts of cases. And yet our grand juries involving racially-charged cases are often created unequally, stocked with this same short-sighted and biased majority. I find it amusing that many associates find fault with Women’s Rights panels made up completely of men, but can’t see the problem with a case that involves minorities and a grand jury that consists of 75% white people.

This is why people are in such an uproar. This is why people are protesting. Hell, other than the criminally-minded in a group, this is why people are rioting. Because nepotism and ignorance trump justice and equality.

Last I checked, those latter two were supposedly the foundations of our country. I guess that’s only for the racial majority, though.