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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Logical Fallacies: Not All White People

This post is part of an ongoing series on common logical fallacies used in conversations about race. If you have suggestions for fallacies that you'd like to see covered, submit your ideas here.

It's a natural reaction when describing racism: "but we're not all like that!" When we learn about the brokenness of our world we want to distance ourselves from the problem. Particularly when talking about racism as a social issue, it can feel like we are just perpetuating "reverse racism" by overgeneralizing.

But the reality is that racism is a broad system (just like other "-isms," such as capital-ism, and commun-ism) that has effects on each one of us, and will require the work of each one of us to combat. Dr. Beverly Tatum compares racism to smog that we all breathe: “sometimes it is so thick it is visible, other times it is less apparent, but always, day in and day out, we are breathing it in."

Muhammad Ali on "not all white people"
What this means is that we all play some part, sometimes large, sometimes small. It is better to be reflective and examine our own hearts than to reflexively disassociate with its existence. That way we can recognize the problem and be a part of bringing about change for the better.

To say "not all white people" merely distracts from an important conversation about sociological trends and their impacts on our society. Even if there are some exceptions, it is disingenuous to thrust these instances into a discussion about the broader power structures at play.

Abagond offers the following example:
"I will make some statement about whites and then be informed that “not all whites” are like that, that they are Individuals. Like there is some special rule of English that “whites” always means “all whites”...When I say, “Whites owned slaves” it hardly means they all owned slaves. As far as I know no more than 2% of White Americans ever did. Yet that does not make the statement untrue or meaningless. Because quantity is not the issue – it was never stated. To make quantity the issue is a derailment."
It can be intimidating to confront the realities of our society's brokenness. But rather than searching for exceptions, let us attempt to take statements about racism at face value, knowing that cultures will always exhibit complexity when examined on an individual level. 
Image result for trendline example
Not all data points...but there's a trend!

If you find yourself upset, take a moment reflect. Does a broad description of societal injustice feel like a personal attack? What is the source of the anxiety you feel?

If the shoe doesn't fit, don't wear it. There's no need to become defensive.

But if your discomfort reflects a vague sense of conviction, it may well be worth digging deeper into that discomfort to examine how you might work to combat systemic injustice within your own sphere of influence.

Take a moment to examine the how systems of racial advantage affect many aspects of life. Which ones can you personally take steps to combat today?
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By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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