HuffPo, White Privilege, and Intellectual Honesty

This morning I woke up and checked facebook and found an article linked by my Aunt in-law Claudia with the comment “Well worth the read.” It lead here.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/what-i-said-when-my-white-friend-asked-for-my-black_us_578c0770e4b0b107a2415b89

I started writing a response in Word and when finished it was 6 full pages, so I dug out this wordpress account I made years ago to copy/paste it here because it seemed rather rude to dump that much on a Facebook post.

Claudia, I have a lot to say about this so please bear with me. Since her article is fairly long, my response is also going to be lengthy for a Facebook post. Anyone who’s interested but doesn’t want to read the bulk can skip to my final paragraph for my point without the supporting reasoning.

I would like to make sort of a disclaimer here at the beginning. You know me well enough to understand my intent, but that is unlikely to be true for your entire friend list. First, I’m about to discuss her personal experiences. I am in no way trying to invalidate them or say that she’s incorrect in her assertions. I am going to assume that her portrayal about her personal stories are all correct, and if any doubt arises in my analysis, she’ll get the benefit. The only point at which I’m going to openly disagree with her is in her concluding paragraphs which aren’t personal experience. However, I am going to be calling into question the specific way she presents her story and how I believe it negatively effects the black community, her movement in particular, and the critics of her movement. Please don’t confuse the two. Secondly, at the core of her point, I don’t disagree with her. Racism exists, black people suffer from it more than most, we should work together to fight it rather than be opponents. Where we disagree are in the details of specific issues, as well as what is and isn’t an acceptable approach to dealing with the problem. Again, please don’t confuse “She’s wrong about this detail” for “She’s wrong and America is a racial paradise”. Also, I’ll try and rewrite here as little of her article as possible for the sake of length. I’ll keep the order of her numbered points so if you want to double check to what I am referring, it should be quick and easy.

Her article starts with an open letter from a Facebook friend. This is notable in two regards. First, that her friend felt the need to write a letter in defense of himself in the first place. I make a note of it here only because it will become relevant at the end. Second, that he’s specifically asking for examples of “institutional racism” which is a very specific kind of racial argument currently being employed in the public square. It is very popular and being employed precisely because it’s virtually impossible to prove and requires no evidence to convince people to support you in whatever your goal is at the time. Absolutely zero of her examples qualify for this designation. The only one that comes close isn’t her personal story, but her talking about a date she had being harassed by police, so I’m forced to take it with a grain of salt because it’s hearsay, true though it probably is. As such, she’s unfortunately failed at her goal before she’s actually begun. Nobody who doesn’t believe in institutional racism in 2016 is going to be changed by these, because she’s changing the topic to something much more provable, individual racism. None of this is to say necessarily that institutional racism doesn’t exist, merely that these types of arguments support confirmation bias in her opponents. “ah ha!” they say, “None of these show institutional racism, therefore it doesn’t exist!”. She’s already being counterproductive to her cause by not answering the question that was asked.

She then gives a few reasons why she’s never really talked about these before. I don’t take issue with any of this, except for her assertion that (paraphrased) “I was taught by my community and society at large not to rock the boat or make a big deal out of it.” I assume this is true for her. Where I take my objection is that “Society teaches us X” has become a consistently used cop-out argument that never requires any evidence. When black conservatives like Thomas Sowell or Larry Elder come out and disagree with this assertion, they get called slurs like “Uncle Tom” or “Oreo” (white on the inside) and told they aren’t “black enough” as though their experiences are somehow less valid, again with no more or less evidence than the popular opinion in the black community. She’s not wrong here per se, it’s just not a phrase I think should be used lightly.

 

So, here she tells several personal stories. I’ll respond to them point by point assuming you’ve read them already.

  1. I’m willing to assume that she was correct that the neighborhood bullies threw rocks in her pool specifically because she was black. She didn’t give any actual reason in her story though for coming to that conclusion. Maybe there was more to the story that was cut for space, or the subtext was obvious if you were there. In any event, from a logic and evidence based standpoint, her story is “a white person did something bad to a black person, therefore it’s racism.” While it may apply to her story, it’s an extremely dangerous way to start interpreting stories where you don’t personally know anyone involved. I can say with regret that between the ages of 11-14 I was a jerk and a bully. Thing is, at that age I wasn’t a jerk or a bully for any particular reason. If you tried to find a rationality or commonality between the people I was mean to, you wouldn’t find it. So by what criteria do we assume these kids were being racist? Again, I assume that she’s right about her personal story but take this to a national level. When you read the headline “Officer shoots unarmed black man” by what criteria do you determine that the cop was racist or that he was just a really bad cop? Her story, while presumably true, is teaching terrible habits about reading in to the minds and motives of others.

 

  1. I have no problem with her story or how it’s told here, only her conclusion. Aside from only being an example of an individual racist act (which honestly might not even have been racist so much as careless or stupid at that age. I myself used words then who’s meaning I didn’t really understand) it’s a good point. The problem comes with “if you’ve NEVER had a defining moment in your childhood or your life where you realize your skin color alone makes other people hate you, you have white privilege.” The problem is this. I am white and I HAVE had an experience of finding myself hated for my skin color alone. The assertion here is that this is an experience that is exclusive to some groups of people, rather than simply more common with them. Very typically I find the term “white privilege” doesn’t actually describe anything unique to being white in America, but simply noting the advantages that exist in being the majority population somewhere. Throughout much of history, if you’re a Chinese family living in Japan or vice versa, there was a really significant amount of tension and disadvantage. This isn’t an “America” thing or a “white and black” thing. This is a “people” thing and a “Tower of Babel” thing. Again, this isn’t to invalidate her point but calling it “white” only serves to make white people defensive on the issue and black people to focus more on the color difference and cause hatred. More on that later.

 

  1. No comment here, other than as I’ve pointed out before, it isn’t an example of “institutional” racism and there’s nothing about this situation exclusive to being white or black. I’d go so far as to wager that white kids in Harlem or Detroit have faced similar difficulties. Still, she’s not wrong about her actual point that this is bad and happens so moving on.

 

  1. If you have a problem with people assuming that you gained your achievement through unfair discriminatory affirmative action, you should probably oppose unfair discriminatory affirmative action. I doubt she does as a black writer for HuffPo, but I don’t know so I can’t fairly make that assumption. What I can say is that white students losing their college spots to less qualified black students does in fact happen. Just this June the supreme court ruled in a 4-3 decision that it was perfectly acceptable to discriminate based on race in admissions to college so long as it’s white kids you’re discriminating against. This was in a response to a court case where a white girl was suing precisely because she was the victim of this practice. White people aren’t even the worst hurt by this. While the standard practice in affirmative action in college admissions is to count black applicants as though their SAT score is 200 points higher than it is, Asian applicants get treated as though their score is 50 points lower than it is. Is this because our Asian founding fathers set up an Asian system that promotes Asian privilege that needs to be corrected? No, it’s because the black community is a more important voting block to a major political party, so this injustice gets ignored. Does this mean it’s remotely fair to assume someone’s success is BECAUSE of their race? Of course not, and it’s clearly unfounded in this case. Still, when you rig the system in a racist and divisive way, you can’t be surprised when people get divided because of it. If you want white people to acknowledge the privilege they get in our society, I find it a little disingenuous when you refuse to acknowledge the 250 point advantage you’re getting over the Asian guy standing next to you. If that doesn’t qualify as a racial privilege, what does?

 

  1. Again, I’m willing to assume that she’s correct in her assumptions here of others’ motives and meaning. They are just that though, assumptions. Unlike Princeton, there actually is a well known second school called Harvard, and it’s relatively rare to meet someone going to the ultra prestigious one. Here, she is actively showcasing that it is acceptable to breed hatred in your mind over what you assume someone’s subtext to be. While she may have been correct here this is again a really unhealthy pattern to publicly model for others. One of the major reasons people deny that there’s a real race problem today in America, is that virtually everyone and everything that exists is getting called racist by someone these days. Some of the claims are valid. Many of them aren’t. Using our intuition as the primary determining factor guarantees that we aren’t taken seriously by many.

 

  1. We’ll set aside for a moment that Malcolm X was an utterly vile disgusting racist and it’s horrifying to me that people speak his name in the same sentence as Dr. King because they haven’t so much as googled what that awful man professed (arguing in favor of segregation and against peaceful protest because violence is better as the most mild examples that come to me). EVERYONE has to read authors they don’t relate to in school. How many 21st century students relate to Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure? None? I’ll assume this student said something else that confirmed there was anything remotely about race here that she just didn’t include in her story. Other than that, my only comment is that this isn’t white privilege, it’s majority privilege. If I took my family to live in Japan, my son Simon would have almost exclusively Japanese role models. Personally, I never understood this as a problem. I don’t feel the need to personally relate to a historical figure or fictional character in order to understand the message or enjoy it. Maybe it comes from being a Christian and spending my youth reading almost exclusively about Jewish people. In any event, the point here again is that it’s dangerous to assume too much in someone else’s speech. I don’t think finding a given biography unappealing is exclusive to members of different races.

 

  1. I honestly don’t think there were any racist implications here, just arrogant and narcissistic ones. Still, I promised not to question her personal experiences so she’ll get the benefit of the doubt. There’s absolutely no reason to assume anything racist based on the facts presented except that the cafeteria staff at the time was black. Though it may have been true here, this is a downright dangerous line of logic to present. As a general rule, people find racists to be intolerable in today’s society. Where people get away with it without repercussions is when it goes unidentified. So if we take this story at face value, the message here is that anytime a white person says something mean to a black person, we can fairly assume it to be racist in intent. If all black people thought this way, the ONLY possible result is for them to think that every mean white person on planet earth is racist. This has no alternative but to increase racial divides, as black people will then make faulty claims of racism, which white people will be defensive about, and then nobody pays attention when something legitimately racist is going on. Her story, while presumably true, is a horrible one to use as an example for her point.

 

  1. No problems here, the guy even admitted it was racial. The only problem is a point I’ve made before, that you can’t jump from “Black people experience this” to “white people never experience this.” I would be utterly stunned if similar situations never occurred with white people working abroad. People tend to be awful to each other, Bosses especially so. The term “white privilege” is one that will only serve to make people resistant to the cause.

 

  1. The hearsay story. The best point if true, the most objectionable if false, particularly in light of the recent skyrocketing number of attacks on innocent white police officers. When the cops charged in the Freddie Gray case, half of whom are black, are charged by a black prosecutor, under a black judge, with a black mayor, and a black city council, and people still label it racism when they’re acquitted, we need to be very careful with the accusations we make against police. Not much to say here, it’s relevance is entirely dependent on how much faith you’re putting into not just her story, but this nameless date’s. Do I think black people get pulled over for no good reason a lot? Sure. Do I also think that many black people use that to misinterpret all kinds of police actions? Yes, I’ve personally seen that many times. I won’t comment on this, because we just don’t know. It’s not directly relevant, but there’ s GREAT video on race here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=piwaBO6U43U where white liberal (and all around great guy) Dave Rubin tries to convince black conservative Larry Elder that the police have a major racism problem. Elder seems the most well researched of anyone I’ve ever seen discuss the subject. (Note: I don’t agree with Elder on everything, so please don’t go assuming I do).

 

  1. Her story’s fine. Shoot, I’m a conservative. You won’t find me claiming the media isn’t ridiculously corrupt and built to push personal narratives rather than truth. The objection is to her conclusion. Having to alter the news to get to the truth is absolutely not a black issue. Virtually every group in the country needs to do that to some degree. Similarly, having to deal with vicious hateful trolls on the internet isn’t a black issue. Everyone from every group expressing any idea on the internet has to do that. Host a Christian website? Atheist trolls. Host a Packers website? Bears trolls. Host an Xbox website? Playstation trolls. The only way to avoid it is to write about something absolutely nobody cares about like…..pencils or something. So yeah, I believe her story and agree that it’s wrong but her conclusion tells me that she’s relatively unfamiliar with others’ experiences with the media or the internet.

 

 

So we get to her concluding paragraphs. She makes reference again to institutional racism, which none of her personal stories showed. She then makes the statements that I found appalling enough to write this massive response letter.

“we are excluded from the privilege you have to not be judged, questioned or assaulted in any way because of your race.

As to you “being part of the problem,” trust me, nobody is mad at you for being white. Nobody.”

I’m sorry but……….what? This is so spectacularly, objectively, and provably false I’m kind of amazed it was said to begin with. I don’t even have to use my personal stories which can disprove all of these except for assault.

Let’s start with that first statement. White people aren’t judged, questioned, or assaulted in any way because of our race? Ok one at a time.

Judged- The author judged people for their skin color in at least 3, arguably all of her stories. Her conclusions that many of these problems were racial in nature were based ENTIRELY on that those who committed the acts were white. It’s disproven using only her own article. It’s incredibly easy to pile on more evidence. Just this past year progressive liberal democrat presidents of Seattle University and the University of Missouri were forced to resign. They were forced to resign because not caving into radical demands by minority protesters was assumed to be because they were white. (Why anyone would cave in to some of these demands, which include things like paid stipends to only black students so they don’t have to work while going to school, I have no idea). People assert all the time that the modern generation of white people should pay reparations for the crimes of white people in the past, regardless of whether or not their families were even in America in the 19th century. That’s a moral judgment based solely on skin color.

Questioned- Remember that letter from the beginning of a man in defense of himself I said we’d get back to? Why exactly might one think he felt the need to write it? He felt the need to write it precisely BECAUSE white people get questioned because of their race. That Lori here would suggest that white people don’t get questioned based on their skin color shows either a startling lack of self awareness, or outright hypocrisy. The very premise behind institutional racism is that we can look at statistics of representation in corporate boardrooms and such, and question who has those jobs based on the color of their skin. Her own worldview requires that this statement be false.

Assaulted- A little less than a month ago, it was well published worldwide news that 5 police officers were murdered by a black man who said he wanted to “kill white cops”. This statement is absurd on its face.

Then we have her other statement. That “Nobody is mad at your for being white. Nobody.” This is where I have no logical alternative than to call her character into question. It so astoundingly easy to see that this is not the case, that I have a hard time believing she isn’t just lying. It takes seconds, seconds, to search Youtube, or Twitter, or just plain old google and find a wide variety of people from multiple races that are mad at white people for being white. Shoot, Malcolm X, to whom she apparently relates, spent his entire adult life mad at white people for being white. A Youtube personality typically reffered to as “Black Hitler” exists. Statistically, a plurality, a majority, of black people consider black people to be more racist on average than white people. I’m not going to say that’s accurate, but the idea that NOBODY does is beyond preposterous to the point that I’m left with an unfortunate logical choice.

Either this woman is a deeply naïve idiot, or she’s a vicious liar. That’s it. Those are the options she’s left me with. The statements in her closing paragraph are so obviously untrue, and so damaging to overall race relations if taken at face value, that she’s either too stupid to see outside her personal experiences to the larger picture, or doesn’t care and is willing to lie to push her agenda. So which is it? Is the Harvard grad an idiot, or is the Huffington Post writer a vicious liar? It’s sad because really I don’t disagree with the core of her moral stance. Racism exists. It is bad. We should fight it. As soon as you start telling lies to progress your position though, you force people like myself who would naturally be your ally to speak against you instead. White privilege and institutional racism, regardless of whatever truth there is to the concepts, are being used across the country like a billy club. They’re being used to blame innocent people for moral sins they have not committed, and demand ludicrous and racist things like segregation (go read the list of demands of groups like Black Lives Matter or these student protest organizations. Even if you agree with their premise, their requests are beyond unacceptable). In this article she is denying that anyone, anywhere, is using the term white privilege in a negative way. That’s an immoral distortion of reality, and to say it only hurts her own cause. You were right though Claudia. This was well worth the read. Regardless of whether or not she’s ignorant or lying, this is a fantastic look into how bias shapes our views and damages our intellectual honesty.

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