Why It’s So Hard to Talk About Racism

racism, Jane Elliott, experiment, society, Write Anything Wednesday
Jane Elliott is a person who understands how insidious racism is. In fact, she created an exercise to help others understand, as well. (Taken from a screenshot.)

Why is it so hard to talk about racism no matter where you are? The answer is complicated, but I want to take the time to list my observations on the matter and connect older posts I made which only broached the subject.

Let me start by showing sharing a video. CalicoJack shared this on one of his posts, but I have a different angle to show you.

Think about this video for a moment because I will get back to the premise of that experiment later.

Originally, this post was going to be an open letter to racists. I had already put down a number of thoughts a year ago, but I couldn’t post it.

I didn’t really know how to start or finish the letter, let alone how I wanted to organize my thoughts on the matter.

Also, I know much of what I had to say would only fall on deaf ears.

Additionally, I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to make certain thoughts public.

But now I am ready to reveal how this subject frustrates me to no end. One reason is the stupidity of racism itself. The other reason is willful ignorance, which is two-fold: the ignorance of people who insist upon being racist and the ignorance of people who don’t want to hear others out on this topic.

Let’s face it: Race isn’t an easy issue to talk about. And it shouldn’t be because of the history involved. But this is not a discussion that should be avoided. In fact — to borrow a talking point from the fictional character Jonathan Pie — it should be discussed just because of how uncomfortable it makes us.


What I Talked About in Previous Posts

As I said, I have occasionally talked about race on this blog, even from the beginning. When I first set up this blog, I started with a few reposts, including a post in which I talked about the N-word. While I am opposed to anyone using it, I questioned why some non-black people wanted to use it so badly. (I have asked that directly to someone and I never got an answer.)

I referenced that post this year (in June) when I discussed Bill Maher’s use of the N-word and how had lectured a black person about it while denying underlying problems that still existed at the time. It’s been nearly 20 years since Maher was on Politically Incorrect and those underlying problems still exist.

Also in June, I started up this series to discuss more underlying problems with race, starting with the 1994 Crime Bill. Some people love to mention crime rates in the black community, but they don’t like to look at context and they refuse to look at institutional discrimination as being a factor in people’s suffering. And they certainly refuse to look at their own prejudice when it comes to reinforcing discrimination and stereotypes that are part of a vicious cycle which includes circular reasoning.


What Often Happens When People Talk About Race and Discrimination

Usually, nothing gets accomplished unless the people talking have the same goals and similar perspectives. Other times, these conversations tend to attract people who try to take over the conversation despite not knowing what the heck they’re talking about or having no real desire to examine the true causes of racism and discrimination.

The type of people I’m talking about tend to deny that racism is a thing, they quibble about semantics, they project, and they do anything they can to obfuscate the issue. They often treat the subject as an accusation, especially when they aren’t necessarily being accused of anything. Ironically, that creates suspicion, which could have been avoided if these people would have just bowed out of the conversation in the first place.

All the while, most of the people engaging in this type of discussion become angrier and even more frustrated because:

  1. They are someone they know has been discriminated against.
  2. A news story being discussed is a case for real racism.
  3. Some people are in denial, lying, trolling, or extremely ignorant.
  4. People are being called out for their ignorance and/or deep-seated prejudices.

This will not end well when people refuse to acknowledge their own prejudices or at least set them aside to see others’ points of view. And sometimes I don’t know whether or not that sucks more than when a person is proudly racist and keeps spewing garbage. Either way, the conversation isn’t going anywhere.

Another thing that frustrates me is when an otherwise understanding person doesn’t get any of the points I’m making but insists on injecting their points of view. This person is likely debating me in their head instead of just listening to me or reading what I have to say with an open mind.


Things That Tick Me Off About These Discussions

Say a black man is pulled over then beaten by the police even though he did his best to comply with the officer(s). Alternatively that man is shot (to death) despite lying still on the ground. Or there can be a case like Trayvon Martin’s where a kid is shot by an overzealous resident who had no business following anyone.

Discussions like these often lead to one or more of five things happening:

  1. The entire discussion is marked by the willful ignorance and intellectual dishonesty of one or more parties.
  2. The discussion devolves once one idiot decides to refer to someone by a racial slur.
  3. Someone inevitably brings up racist refrains or stereotypes into the discussion instead of examining other points of view or the merits of their opponents’ arguments.
  4. Points fall on deaf ears because one or more people arguing refuse to empathize with their opponents or victims (in the case of a news story being discussed).
  5. One or more people arguing thus reveal themselves as hypocrites.

Often, the (black) victim is blamed and thus on trial, even though that person might now be dead and unable to defend himself.

In cases involving police officers, some people refuse to blame police behavior (or at the very least, officer training) as being the major problem in such a story.

I have been part of these types of discussions and each has caused me to lose plenty of respect for the people doing any of these things. At least some people have the decency to avoid these topics or to ask fair questions. Others just add to the discord.

1. Willful Ignorance and Intellectual Dishonesty

Willful ignorance is when someone refuses to learn about something because it will destroy their preconceived notions. Also, it’s when someone refuses to hear other viewpoints because those will destroy certain narratives.

When someone is being intellectually dishonest, they often throw accusations at others and use other logical fallacies to undermine the entire conversation. For instance, someone may jump in and accuse those discussing racism of being racists themselves. As I’ve stated before, this kind of argument is preposterous.

One does not need to be racist in order to recognize racism, let alone discuss it. If someone has been affected by discrimination or saw someone else being affected by it, they know what that is.

In any case, the willfully ignorant/intellectually dishonest person is being incredibly stubborn. Thus the discussion will not move past a certain point and may even devolve into a shouting match or an exchange of insults. And this does nothing to improve race relations.

2. Racist Refrains/Stereotypes

This feeds into the first problem and vice versa.

For example, look at Bill O’Reilly. His now-defunct show and Fox News were built on right-wing talking points and racial obfuscation. A regular feature on his show was an eight-point “Dear Black People” Speech:

Step 1: Liberals were definitely mentioned at the top of his speech. O’Reilly pointed to them as co-conspirators in the issue of racism, mostly for inaction.

There may have been a mention of a black leader, which was usually accompanied by part of a speech that person made.

If the latter was true, O’Reilly’s response veered off-point. Often, O’Reilly used one or more of his buzzwords here in reference to liberals. Ex: “Race hustlers,” which evolved from “race baiters,” which O’Reilly and his ilk used in retort to being called out as race baiters themselves.

Step 2: O’Reilly quickly moved to introduce statistics, largely without context and all negative in regards to blacks.

Step 3: He made an extrapolation.

Step 4: Then, he may have introduced a kernel of truth, only to shortly counter it with a half-truth or total nonsense.

Step 5: He may have shared another snippet from someone else speaking on the topic at hand.

Step 6: *Elements of Steps 1 through 5 were selectively repeated at least once, depending on the length of O’Reilly’s tirade.*

Step 7: He got into how “personal choices” were really the culprit of black people’s struggles. He would often connect that to hip hop, Hollywood, and anything else old fuddy-duddies really hated.

Step 8: O’Reilly ended his speech by telling black people what they needed to do, e.g. “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”

This crap is often repeated in discussions like this, and usually just a step away from using …

3. Racial Slurs

I mean, someone can deny they are racists for so long until they are pushed into a corner. They will start calling other people racial slurs and expose themselves as intellectually dishonest bigots. It becomes clear that this person feels free to use these terms because they likely don’t see the targets of these terms as equals.

4. The Lack of Empathy/Dehumanization

This is of course expected when one is talking to a flaming racist. How does racism exist without dehumanization? Yet sometimes, even an otherwise well-meaning person may exhibit this when discussing stories that have a hint of racism.

For example, let’s go back to the video with Jane Elliott.

A Class Divided

For two days in 1970, Elliott conducted an experiment with her third-grade class. For the first day, the children with blue eyes were given privileges and praised while the brown-eyed children were effectively put on probation and berated whenever they made mistakes. The next day, the roles were reversed.

Elliott agreed to have that experiment recorded in 1970 as part of a study. Years later, she was asked to give that same lesson to adults working for public and private agencies. One such workshop was conducted in an Iowa prison and recorded for an episode of Frontline.

Since the lesson was created one day after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination in 1968, the people given the lesson were being taught about racism and how destructive it could be those being targeted. The children who took part in this exercise quickly found the lesson and it stayed with them in adulthood. The prison staffers quickly understood the lesson, too. But not everyone who was subjected to the experiment did.

For instance, Jane Elliott conducted the experiment for The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1992. The blue-eyed members were separated from the brown-eyed members, who were being treated better and moved ahead in lines. After the experiment was over, Elliott explained what she did and why she did it.

However, some of the blue-eyed members of the audience refused to listen to what she was saying. In particular, there was one women with light-brown hair who kept asking why that was done to her. Obviously, that woman was sheltered for much of her life because she couldn’t understand how anyone would like to try her that way, even as part of an experiment. She wasn’t looking past her few minutes of inconvenience and absorbing the lesson.

How This Plays Out in Discussions About Race

A person shows that they lack empathy when they automatically defend a cop and see the black person as a “thug” or a “trouble maker” who “was up to no good.” This person will do anything to deflect guilt off the white person or avoid considering the possibility of his/her guilt altogether.

Some people will play devil’s advocate, often unnecessarily, or work from a place that automatically considers the black youth guilty or inferior. This type of person will not listen to any anecdotes others have to offer about similar experiences. No, they will say or imply one of a few things:

  • “If it didn’t happen to me, it doesn’t happen at all.”
  • “You’re exaggerating/full of it.”
  • What did you do to deserve such treatment? (They are essentially blaming the victim and assassinating a person’s character by default.)

And they will drag out a conversation past the point of sanity. It’s unbelievable. They just do not want to empathize and consider real-world problems outside their own little bubble. They thus work backwards to dehumanize a person of color and try to justify their poor treatment (to avoid guilt or introspection).

5. Hypocrisy

The audience member I mentioned earlier refused to see that discrimination based on race was just as stupid and arbitrary as discrimination based on something like eye color. At the same time, she wanted an apology or empathy based on a minor inconvenience she suffered for less than a half-hour. That was hypocritical.

In an argument like this, people later show their own hypocrisy, even in everyday situations. For instance, someone like this can be driving on a freeway when some woman cuts them off. Did I mention she was black? Well, this person will go online or talk to a black friend just to mention that and then ask why black people do this, as if ALL BLACK PEOPLE DO THIS.

Regardless, this person feels racially slighted somehow and now wants sympathy. The woman that cut them off can just be rude to anybody and everybody. She would cut off any black person if she felt so entitled or just didn’t care.

In other cases, some people blame black people for being obsessed with race, as if black people decided to separate themselves by race in the first place. But as you see in my above examples, other people bring up race unprovoked.

There is no sense of irony here. None.


What Really Baffles Me About Racism

Human beings are imperfect creatures. In some ways, it’s natural for us to have prejudices. And it’s natural for some people to take time to warm up to others.

Sometimes, I can’t even say that everyone’s prejudiced without someone wasting 2 or more minutes trying to refute that. And that’s part of the problem.

Prejudice isn’t always sinister. For example, our preferences can sometimes determine the type of friends we have, who we date, the types of fictional stories that appeal to us, and the types of designs we like to look at.

Yet although I understand that all of us have prejudices, I do not understand why people like to codify those prejudices against other people. And I don’t see how people can justify discrimination despite the damage it causes.

I don’t get how people can go years and years hating people for something as arbitrary as skin color, especially when that hatred extends to a child. What type of person hates a child for having the “wrong” skin color? What type of person is willing to molest or kill a child or deny them basic human rights because of their skin color?

I don’t get how people think it’s right to teach children how to hate others for arbitrary reasons.

And you know what? Many of the people who do this cannot explain it, either. But because they’ve had racism all their lives, they’re afraid to give up that crutch.


Why Racism Is Destructive

Racism wears people down because it is a constant fight between people who want the full experience of freedom and those who want to feel an underserved sense of superiority. It’s a constant internal struggle for everyone involved. And ultimately, when it’s not outright deadly, it cuts into people’s quality of life.

Jane Elliott’s experiment is so profound because it quickly illustrated the long-term effects of racism. She realized she had “created a microcosm of society in a third-grade classroom.”

When the children were given privileges, they felt superior and wanted to express it by putting others down. When they were on the receiving end of such treatment, it affected their performance and the way they saw themselves.

When someone has been treated like they are inferior, it wears on them. Eventually, they start to question whether or not they deserve certain things and it brings down their self-esteem. They might try to do tit for tat, turn to violence, or do any other things they’re not proud of doing. As a result, it increases stress levels and it adds to depression.

When someone insists on discriminating against others, it wears on them, too. They have to keep up a façade for years on end and carry a constant anger they may have inherited from their parents and grandparents.

They may also cut into their own quality of life by keeping others down. For instance, a person who votes against health care or welfare because they don’t people of color to partake of those things will thus end up with crappy health care and no safety net for the times they may need it. By hating others, people are holding themselves back.


The Truth Is …

Racism might not be an easy topic to discuss, but it must be discussed, openly, honestly, and with the drive to find solutions.

Problems don’t go away because we ignore them. When we ignore problems, they only get worse and they eventually bubble over. And when we actively contribute to a problem, we miss out on progress.

That’s what I wanted to say but in these types of discussions, people don’t want to consider these messages, at least when (they think) it’s pointed at them.

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2 thoughts on “Why It’s So Hard to Talk About Racism

    1. Jury duty … that sounds like an interesting story in the making. If you are accepted as a juror, that’s an opportunity to get a close look at how the justice system works.

      I have never been on a jury myself.

      Like

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