For the past weeks I have been engaged in several discussions about racism and black lives in the USA. I did discuss primarily with republicans. Here are some of the arguments I encountered and my answers to them.
Racism is not the only problem
“Racism is not the number one problem we have in the world anymore. What about human trafficking? What about Palestine? What about Yemen? What about black on black violence? What about abortions? Did you know the number one threat to black peoples lives are abortions?”
Yes, there are many problems in this world besides racism. However, I would like you to research a term called “whataboutism”. Basically, when you throw a “what about” argument, the underlying motive is to run away from this particular problem by pointing out something else wrong, that you think I would not support. So yes, there are many “what abouts”, but if we for a second only focus on racism in the American system and society, you might learn something very valuable that you can use to fight other problems that are nearer to your heart.
“Fine, so let’s focus on that. Did you know the biggest threat to black lives are other black criminals way more than police?”
Before I answer you, I want you to reflect about whether this question really has anything to do with the subject of racism in the USA? Because by asking this, you are diverting the problem we are addressing from “racism being a threat to black lives” to “black lives are a threat to black lives”. So this is also under the category “whataboutism”.
However, now you brought it up: The short answer is, that black on black criminality is just as common as white on white criminality proportionally. When you get angry about the high crime rate in the black community, you should relate that to their social circumstances rather than their skin color. Their social circumstances are dictated by the systemic racism in the USA. More on this later. If you take one thing out of this subject is, do not argue with “what about”.
I believe a decent human being can empathize with more than just one cause. Sure, you might have spent years fighting human trafficking or apartheid in Palestine or famine in Yemen, but I hope you wont be so much into only one injustice, that you cannot see another.
When is it time for other causes to get attention?
“I understand whataboutism, but I still wonder when is it time to talk about Yemen or Palestine? When can we create just as much awareness as the BLM-movement has had? Shouldn’t we tackle the more urgent problems first?”
There are some subjects that get more traction than others. They become more mainstream than others. And it is not always the most urgent ones. We have all been travelling and seen extreme poverty in other parts of the world than in the USA. But let me tell you this:
Now, we are lucky to have started a huge movement, which rarely happens for any of the “righteous” issues we like to fight for. So instead of refusing to be part of it, because Yemen or Palestine is more urgent, we should partake. Why?
The BLM is mostly focused on racism in the USA. The USA is also the most powerful nation on earth, and it’s policies (even the internal ones) have direct influence on the rest of the world, even on a personal level. The USA is involved in all larger problems in the world including Palestine and Yemen.
I believe, when the bottom line is lifted in the USA, when racism is just a little bit less, it will also have a positive effect on other more urgent topics.
The statistics are not so bad
“Here is a statistic saying 370 white people were shot by the police last year versus 235 black people”
Without even checking your source, I can already see that the killing of black people is way higher than the population percentage suggest it should be (13%). In fact, it should be only around 66 black people killed, if it had to correspond to the population percentage of black people.
“Oh, well if you compare to the crime rate in the black community, it should make sense then.”
So even here, you are not right. It is hard to make an estimate of how much crime every race makes, because not all crimes are reported or investigated, and most white crimes are financial fraud by mostly white Americans that never get caught. The very thing we are opposing; is that police are harsher on black people than white people. And the police are the ones making those statistics.
But let us play your game:
According to the OJJDP black people count for 26,5% of the arrests in the USA, while white people count for 69,7%. Let us for a second ignore the fact that cops are prone to arrest black people more than white people, and apply those numbers to your above killing statistics:
(370/69.7*100)*0.265 = 140,7 people
So even if you compare the crime rate in the black community, only 140 people should statistically get killed by police, not 235 people. That is 95 human lives statistically unjustifiably killed by the police every year.
So yes, there are a lot of statistics supporting the claim of police brutality against black lives. In all this, we have not taken into considerations the following:
- Police under-counts the number of police killings in official reports (sources: The New York Times).
- White crimes are often of another type, namely financial, which is rarely investigated, rarely exposed, and rarely put to justice
- One thing is police brutality, another is sentences black people get for a crime are much higher than for white people.
- The numbers do not reflect whether the victims of police killing were armed or not, or under what circumstances they got shot. There are many reports of unnecessary killings, when it comes to black lives.
- Unarmed black people are more than 4 times more likely to be shot by police than unarmed white people (sources: The Washington Post).
You should fight from within the system
“We have built an amazing country, although not perfect. This country will allow you to fight injustice from within the system. Going the legal way. That is the only way I will support a movement to deal with racism. I am against any kind of rioting.”
– could be talking about the USA or another majority white country.
While I sympathize a lot with this argument, I do not believe it is always true. And definitely not the only way. While some might work for the cause in silence, let others speak up.
If you are not white:
Basically, you are trying to infiltrate a system that in the same time is trying to hold you back as it favors white people. If you are very skilled and capable, you might succeed of course. However, the impact you can do for the cause personally will not be significant, in best case incremental, in most cases very local.
Obama became the president of the United States, and even he could not change the system. There are two things, that will hold you back:
- You will have to compromise your integrity and belief system to reach that high, when you are not white. This is because you will have to appeal to the average white person who is unaware of their racial biases.
- You will start to care more about being a role model for the non-white kids than doing an actual change.
So yes, accumulated talent working for the cause will work in the end, but it is a very very slow approach that will take ages to achieve. On the other hand, the BLM movement can accelerate all of this. 40 years worth of work could be achieved in a few months. Do not put your own career before your values, even if it feels hampering to your career to speak up.
If you are white:
You can certainly use your position and white privilege to fight racism, do work from within. No one is keeping an eye on you as much as they are on non-white people. However, do not stay silent. We have a momentum now to enforce systemic changes, and that we should take advantage of.
“But if I speak up now, it might hurt my chances to get to a better position, where I can make an even larger impact”
Again, there is no certainty you will. If this is about your own career, then do not use your career as an excuse for your silence. However, if you work to achieve a better world, you should know that it is more valuable to speak up now, loud and clear. We need as many white voices to normalize anti-racism.
Indeed, all this is of course my own opinion. I really think we need people to speak up and not be afraid.
I don’t agree with removing my Africa pictures
“I do not agree that my pictures of smiling children I took in Africa is portraying racism. These were pictures from real life, and I did not just take random pictures of poverty, I actually had a special connection with those kids I met and asked for permission to take their pictures. It is a valuable memory of my visit and a personal experience, and I know very well I am no savior to them, even if I volunteered.”
First of all, you are not a bad person for taking those pictures. If you absolutely want them on your Instagram or Facebook profile, then most people would not even notice. And those who do, would not judge you based on only that.
The problem with the pictures is, that they portray a continent in desperate need of your help to save them. In desperate need of tourists and volunteers and your old clothes. If you have been to Africa, you would know there is much more progress in the continent, and we should rather promote this narrative to flourish it even more.
So if those pictures mean so much to you, you can keep them in your private photo album. It is not enough, that you do know you are a savior. We do not need others to think that you are.
To someone who has never heard about this debate:
There are many morally questionable aspects of taking pictures of and with poor smiling African kids. You can read about it on those links:
Expat Panda: Stop Using Black And Brown Children as Photo Props
Sacred Footsteps: Orientalist Travel Photography: ‘Creating’ the Native
No more white guilt!
“Why do I have to feel bad for something I did not even do? No one agrees with slavery anymore, we would never want that back. But I do not want to live my life in guilt for something that happened hundreds of years ago.”
I agree, you should not live in guilt for what happened back then. If you feel guilty for that, I am truly sorry, I really do not see why you should feel guilty. I hope it goes away.
I understand it, because I feel the same thing about terrorism and wars fought in the Middle East, being from there myself. It is not my fault, but I found myself in constant blame by spectators.
So I also understand, that this feeling of guilt is magnified when you hear about how slavery has had a direct impact on black people’s lives today. History is not told and documented for anyone to feel guilty, it is told and documented for two reasons:
- Learning from it and not repeating mistakes.
- To understand why the world is how it is today. We are a result of what has happened in the past.
It is not your fault, that things are like this. You were born into a world of injustice. Try to turn this guilty feeling into a driving force to fight racism. You can even use this feeling to easier sense and distinguish racism. I have certainly used this, whenever I encounter an extremist.
As a rule of thumb, anytime you feel guilted as a white person, you can turn it into an understanding of white privilege.
I really really hope that you will not use your guilty feeling as an excuse to stop fighting racism and speaking up against inequality.
Equal opportunities, not equal outcome
“We live in a country with equal opportunities, and I feel black people are complaining because the outcome did not turn out to be as equal, which is none of our fault.”
I do believe that if there truly was equal opportunities for everyone, the outcome would also be equal within statistical uncertainty. However, it is a theory that is hard to prove. The question is rather: Why do you think the outcome would not be equal? Is there something inherently different about black people’s capabilities?
What you perceive as the right to equal opportunities is actually the right to claim equal opportunities. There is no guarantee you will get it. And especially not in the private sector. Especially in the USA, where education and healthcare has to be paid out of own pocket, it is hard to claim that there are equal opportunities. I can advise you to research systemic racism, red lining and even statutory racism in your own country.
There is a strong white bias all over the world. Everyone (non-whites included) prefer to do business with white people solely because of the prestige and reputation. White people favor each other at job interviews and as business partners.
Even in the schools, there is a huge bias. I have felt this on my own skin in elementary school, high-school and universities. The stories are so emotional, I cannot write about them.
I am sure any non-white person, will tell you that they had to work extra hard to achieve half as much as a white person. And when I say “all,” I actually do mean it. Even the ones supporting Trump, I believe would agree although they would add “but stop whining.”
Whining or not, there is no equal opportunity, there is no equal treatment.
“But you can see that Asian immigrants for example are doing very well in society compared to black people, so I believe if they wanted they could have achieved better, but they would rather complain.”
You cannot draw parallel between Asian immigrants and black people. Black people are not recent immigrants. They were brought to the Americas as enslaved people by the white immigrants from Europe who today rule the USA. All those years have developed an inherent bias that hurts black people more than Asians.
Asians came mostly to the USA because they were needed as a work force in recent years. They came to the country with skills and promised job opportunities. Black people have been refused to enter “white schools” until 1964, and they have since been kept in an economical gap by Redlining that prevented them from succeeding. When one black person despite all odds succeeds, he is discriminated against on the job market.
In fact, Asian people do not have it easy either. They are in constant struggle to overcome the stereotypes that white people hold against them.
As with everything, you need to study the history to understand why the world is as it is today. If you just look at a snapshot, you will fool yourself.
The looting must stop
“How does it even help their cause, when they start looting and destroying local businesses. Those businesses are struggling too and not even white. They are just repelling people who would have supported them.”
I do not agree with the looting either. But we must not use it as an excuse to be against the movement. Historically, all revolutions and protests have been exploited by some individuals or even large groups of people for their own benefit. There is no 100% pure and violent free revolution.
So instead of saying_
“It is sad that a black man got killed, but the looting must stop.”
Try to say:
“It is horrible that property is being looted, but killing black people must stop.”
There is also another argument, that has been roaming around since Trevor Noah made a video talking about it, arguing that the social contract that make up society is broken in the USA, making the looting irrelevant. I would really encourage you to watch it.
Unfortunately, peaceful protests have never led to any major change in this world. Modern history books will always pull out Gandhi and Martin Luther King as the two examples for peaceful protests, but the truth is much more complex and much different. As always, history is written by the victorious. In this case, the victorious are using those examples as to uphold the status quo.
The fact is that the media will show more attention when there is some kind of vandalism, which is find very sad.
Black people are naturally more violent
“Look at what is happening in Africa, in countries like the Congo and compare to what is happening in other former colonies who live in peace, in particularly Asia.”
It is not true that Africa is more violent than other former colonies. You can easily look to India and Burma, where you find plenty of violence. You can also look to the Middle East and find the same. Even in countries like Indonesia, there have been genocides, although it is peaceful today.
You have to understand colonial history very well to understand why some regions today are suffering with violence. When the Europeans left Africa, the Middle East and India, they divided the territories without any deeper understanding of the people who actually lived there. Then then went on to support one tribe over the other in different ways to create hate and envy between locals. It was a divide and conquer game that is still played to this day.
There is absolutely no historical and no contemporary evidence that says black people are more violent. In fact, if you look at it historically, Europe have been savages while the Middle East, Asia and Africa flourished with richness, art, science and great architecture.
It is hard to trust what Muslims say
“Their own books are filled with hate and violence, so I will not believe them when they say their religion is about peace. Just look at what is happening in the Middle East”
It is so sad that you deny a person the right to tell his own truth. The truth is, an average Muslim person did not grow up with books that promote hate and violence. In fact, these books you are talking about are probably a niche. You can find Christian books that promote hate and violence as well, that does not mean that all Christians are hateful.
Please, allow someone to explain his own beliefs himself, and do not impose your prejudice on them, even if you have read all the “bad” books yourself. If he tells you, he does not believe in something written in those books, he most certainly does not believe it.
The violence happening in The Middle East has nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with the colonial past. What is happening in the Middle East is also happening in Christian parts of Africa and Buddhist parts of Asia.
In addition, you cannot justify racism against Muslims in particular. Why are we even discussing this topic? Did you give up on justifying racism as a whole so you are focusing on justifying your Islamophobia?
Do not judge too quickly
“The cop who killed George Floyd might not have been racist. He might have been just a very bad man. Do not assume anything, and leave the judging to God”
Millions of people worldwide have seen the video and have not been in doubt that the killing is racial related. Normally, I hate to use pathos in my argumentation, but when you refuse to see racism in a situation that is so obviously racist to millions of people, it says something about your lack of empathy and understanding of the majority of black peoples lives.
So let me explain this without any pathos: If you asked Derek Chauvin (the cop who killed George Floyd) if he is racist, he will say no. Almost no one would claim to be racist, and yet we have racism everywhere. It is the subconscious racism that is the problem. The subconscious racism that makes it more natural for Chauvin to be without mercy when he handles a black man versus a white man.
The question is, what do you want to achieve by arguing that Chauvin is not racist?
Is it that there is no racism in the police or justice system in the USA? All statistics are against you.
Is it that police brutality is not linked to race? Again, all statistics are against you, but even if you are right, it is still a problem. Police brutality is a problem no matter what.
I do not believe the protests will matter
“I do not think any of this will be fruitful. There will always be racism even a 100 year from now.”
It has already mattered. If it was not for the protests, Derek Chauvin would still be harassing people as a police officer. There has already been some reforms to some police departments and more is on the way. More people than ever now have a basic understanding of white privilege, white supremacy and systemic racism.
People have learned history, they were never taught in school. How many of the following topics did you learn about just since George Floyd’s death:
- Smaller European nations part in colonization
- Tulsa Massacre
- Malcolm X
- Seneca Village and Central Park
- Compensation to slave owners
- The Red Summer of 1919
- The crimes and racism of Winston Churchill
Imagine how many years until we get those topics in the curriculum. So maybe there will still be racism 100 years from now, but just in a few weeks the end of racism has come nearer than ever.