I remember a scene in Mel Gibson’s historical clusterfuck, The Patriot. Just before the climax battle, a white, bigoted yokel turns to a black man — a slave forced by his master to fight for the rebel cause with the promise to be set free — a man to whom the yokel had been racially antagonistic through and through — and says, “I am proud to fight alongside you”, or some bull like that.
Ah! The catharism of struggles against imperialist oppression. Let the common enemy finally help us to see that we are, indeed, all equals. The discerning film critic, however, might see it a different way. On the front lines white men, who are terrified of dying and feel shit about how shitty they have always been, mentally flail about for redemption, turn toward the object of their past shittiness, and ask forgiveness without actually asking, or, indeed, without any real chance of refusal. The black man is probably just as frightened as the rest. And, really, is the battlefield a place to quarrel?
I don’t remember what the black man said, except that it was something heartwarming. But if he had said, “I’m doing this for my freedom, not for racist pricks like you”, wouldn’t it have been a better message? No! Because white men — and yes I am one of them — need the security of perpetually latent forgiveness.
Isn’t that the point of their racism? To help black people act more like Jesus? Saving their souls is the least we can do for for two hundred and forty-six years of chattel enslavement, for giving us hundreds of years of unprecedented economic growth, to catch up and surpass the rest of the world in the Industrial Revolution, so that we can live the American dream.
Unintentionally(?) Mel Gibson painted an exemplary picture of what is called the white narrative.
Two hundred and forty-six years of slavery. One hundred and fifty years of segregation. Don’t give me any “Segregation has ended” bull. I have two words for you: Flint Michigan. And do you think Slavery has ended? Three words: prison industrial complex. Three hundred and ninety-six years of slavery and segregation.
What am I getting at here? The narrative of the American white male is that slavery and segregation have ended, and indeed it is precisely because “decent white men” have, throughout our history, taken up the black person’s cause that we have come so far today. There is in fact some truth in this, as in, it is precisely because white people believe this mythological narrative THAT we have come this far, which is not very far at all.
Here is a completely out-of-context list of US Presidents who owned slaves.
- GEORGE WASHINGTON (between 250-350 slaves)
THOMAS JEFFERSON (about 200)
JAMES MADISON (more than 100)
JAMES MONROE (about 75)
ANDREW JACKSON (fewer than 200)
Martin Van Buren (one)
William Henry Harrison (eleven)
JOHN TYLER (about 70)
JAMES POLK (about 25)
ZACHARY TAYLOR (fewer than 150)
Andrew Johnson (probably eight)
Ulysses S. Grant (probably five)
Indeed, Forty-nine percent of the founding fathers owned slaves. To give a taste of the white narrative on slavery and the Founding Fathers, let me quote a few passages from revolutionary-war.net:
“George Washington wrote to a friend and said, “I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of [slavery].””
Isn’t that heartwarming?
“Yet Washington owned slaves his entire life, beginning at age 11 with the death of his father until his own death.”
The website presents a few more examples of the hypocrisy of the Founding Fathers’ behaviours, then implores our understanding.
“Before we judge too harshly, we must understand that slavery was established long before the Revolutionary War. For centuries, slavery had been a growing part of the economy world-wide, not just in the Colonies.”
“Some believe that since slavery was so commonplace, growing a conscience about it might easily not have happened at all. They suggest that the fact that they opposed slavery at all is incredibly radical for their time.”
Before we judge too…. harshly? … I want you, right now, to replace slavery with child-fucking.
George Washington: goes: “I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of child-fucking”.
And the website is like, “Washington fucked children his entire life…. before we judge too harshly, we must understand that child-fucking was established long before the Revolutionary war. … Some believe that since child-fucking was so commonplace, growing a conscience about it might easily not have happened at all. They suggest that the fact that they opposed child-fucking at all is incredibly radical for their time.”
Is this concept so difficult to understand? Having a bad conscious, and not acting on your bad conscious, does not free you from your moral culpability. In many ways it is worse, for it creates a culture of excuse.
I personally think this passage from the website is more indicative of the reasons the founding fathers had slaves:
“Patrick Henry, who is most famous for his quote “Give me liberty, or give me death!,” wrote in a letter , “I am drawn along by the general inconvenience of living without them. I will not—I cannot justify it, however culpable my conduct.””
Inconvenience. Is that where we are today? We talk about the Founding Fathers’ concerns about inconvenience, instead of detailing the horrors of slavery. How inconvenient was it for the slaves who had to wait on their masters hand-and-foot? Who were whipped into submission for lagging in their work? Who were raped, likely often before any “age of consent”, not that a slave can ever give consent.
Yes, Patrick Henry admits his culpability. Remember that that does not somehow make him less culpable. And the website carefully cherrypicks from nine slave-holding Founding Fathers who happened to express opinions about slavery that weren’t outright satanic, saying “they themselves were aware of the duplicity of their behaviour”.
For those you don’t know, duplicity is a fancy-schmanzy way of avoiding the word “hypocrisy”.
Black People and Islam
The white narrative of black history dominates. Even the voluntary conversion of many blacks to Islam is not left untouched by the white narrative. Scholars may dispute whether Islamic religious values in the black community are secondary or essential to the black nationalist identity, but the white narrative will say that it is merely an act of rebellion, a rejection of American values, ignoring that “the black history narrative … linked the destiny of black to Islam” (Curtis).
How can it be anything other than an act of rebellion? After all — so the white liberal will say — Christianity was shoved down the throats of blacks; they have no reason to be attached to it, and indeed have all the reason to reject it!
Yes, except, do we really expect people to convert to a religion, or, indeed, remain in the religion they have always been in, if they don’t identify with it? I know as an atheist — atheism being the greatest rejection of religion that can be — that I strongly identify with the values surrounding being an atheist. Universally, identifying with a religion is one of the strongest, deepest identifications that humans can possess, more often than not transcending race and nationality.
I personally couldn’t tell you the difference between Lutheranism and Methodism, two sects of the larger Protestant sect of the largest religion in the world. I can tell you that they are surely much more similar to each other than any Christian sect is from Islam, and yet white people who convert from Lutheranism to Methodism, or vice versa, feel they are making a life-changing decision. I don’t doubt that they are, so why do they doubt this of blacks?
And then there is President Obama, whom I have no reason to believe that he is a Christian other than that he is intelligent, meaning he is probably an atheist. Obama has been labeled a Kenyan Muslim since at least 2006, which makes perfect sense in light of the fact that Kenya is eighty-three percent Christian.
Dispelling Some Racially Prejudiced Logical Fallacies
As a philosopher I do feel compelled to talk about logical fallacies, and I think nowhere are logical fallacies so prevalent than in white conversations about race.
Besides some obvious logical fallacies on the part of whites, such as the false equivalency — “See, a black guy killed a cop! It happens on both sides!” — or the other false equivalency of pointing out that white people have hardships, too, whenever “white privilege is mentioned” — or whatever the fuck fallacy it is that makes white people say: “Oh, but slaves were fed and housed! Their owners had a vested interest in taking care of them”!.
As bad as those are, there are some deeper, there is a insidious fallacy flying around, what I call the “All Lives Matter” fallacy. In short, the fallacy of saying whatever black people say is wrong.
Actually, as a philosopher, I feel sickened by the white-washing of the discipline. In my research on racism and fallacies, I came across a piece by “Worldcrass.com” entitled “‘Black Lives Matter!’ 3 words, 12 logical fallacies. Yes to black lives. No to sophistry, slander.” I don’t want to pretend that World Crass is some world class philosophical journal, but they are trying to use logic, which belongs to the realm of the philosopher. To set the tone, I’ll point out that only eleven logical fallacies are mentioned in the article, not twelve.
First, the website has this to say about the abusive fallacy and “Black Lives Matter”:
“The obvious meaning of “Black Lives Matter” is “You are a racist!” After the shooting of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, the relevant question is whether black people are arrested or killed by the police in numbers out of proportion with the need for arrest/use of force. The slogan presupposes there is general agreement on the answer to this, and delivers an ad hominem attack at anyone who is suspected of disagreeing with the consensus. The abusive fallacy is “a subtype of “ad hominem” when it turns into verbal abuse of the opponent rather than arguing about the originally proposed argument.”
“The slogan presupposes there is a general agreement on the answer to this”? Whether there is a general agreement is not in question. In fact, precisely because it is demonstrably the truth, and people still go around saying “The slogan presupposes there is a general agreement on the answer to this”, is the exact point of “Black Lives Matter”. Raising this point is, then, not verbal abuse, but actually raising a point.
Next, an appeal to fear:
“A specific type of appeal to emotion where an argument is made by increasing fear and prejudice towards the opposing side. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Letter to My Son illustrates this nicely.”
Talking about being afraid is not an appeal to fear. Coates writes how he and all the black people he knew were afraid their entire lives, how they lived with this fear, how they dealt with it. That fear had a very real source, founded deep within the social fabric and legacy of the United States. Pointing out that you are afraid, and that there are specific people whom you fear, is not being prejudiced towards those people, or, indeed to anyone. That you, as a white person, feel pointing this out is prejudice against you once again supports the point of pointing it out.
This goes as well for the “Appeal to spite”:
“A specific type of appeal to emotion where an argument is made through exploiting people’s bitterness or spite towards an opposing party. The Baltimore rioting suggests that this fallacy lurks behind the Black Lies Matter campaign”;
and “argumentum ad baculum”
“(baculum = club = threat of violence): An argument made through coercion or threats of force to support position.”
There is no spite. This is no threat of violence. “Black Lives Matter” may express bitterness — as there is good reason to be bitter — but it does not exploit it. Moving on.
“Argument ad populum: a proposition is claimed to be true or good solely because many people believe it to be so.”
Need I point out that pointing out the truth, and that many people know it, is not a fallacy? But furthermore… we’re talking here about the fallacy of these three words. How do we get an argument ad populum fallacy by people yelling three words?
“Converse accident: Occurs in a statistical syllogism when an exception to a generalization is wrongly excluded, and the generalization wrongly called for as applying to all cases. That is, it starts with a one or two examples that is unusual or atypical — the Garner and Brown deaths — and then errs by deriving from these case the truth of a general principle.”
Okay, fine, here are some statistics.
People killed by the police by race.
|Total out of 1140
13 Native American
24 Asian/Pacific Islander
2.4 Native American
1.34 Asian/Pacific Islander
(Source: The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2015/jun/01/the-counted-police-killings-us-database)
Some more information:
Unarmed: 75 black vs 102 (224 total)
Knife: 38 black vs 70 white (155 total)
Firearm: 139 black vs 305 white (554 total)
Now consider that black people are 13.2% of the US population, and whites make up 62.6%, yet 26.6% of people shot by police are black, and 50.7% are white. 33.5% black versus 45.5% white are unarmed; 24.5% black versus 45.2% white carry knives; 25.1% black versus 55.1% white carry firearms. And the argument that the homicide rate is higher among blacks than whites doesn’t add up: how does that explain why unarmed blacks are more likely to be killed by police? Or address why black-on-black homicide is much less investigated than other forms of homicide.
In other words, black people are killed by police at twice the rate that would otherwise be expected given the population. Is this an accident?
Back to the fallacies:
“Fallacy of composition: Assuming that something true of part of a whole must also be true of the whole. The officers in the Garner/Brown cases are racist (or so it is posited), and therefore there must be an epidemic of race-motivated killings in America.”
Again, the argument is that there are MANY racist police officers, that these racist officers do not get punished in any way, that policing policy is itself racist, and this is well-documented. Few people actually make the claim that all police officers are racists.
“Moral high ground fallacy: One assumes a “holier-than-thou” attitude in an attempt to make oneself look good to win an argument.”
Pointing out the truth is not the same as saying “I am holier than thou”. Ironically, crying about someone being holier-than-thou when they appeal to our humanity is making the total sack of shit fallacy. And yes, that was an ad hominem attack.
Speaking of which:
“Poisoning the well: A type of ad hominem where adverse information about a target is presented with the intention of discrediting everything that the target person says.”
Do I have to say it again? These are facts, pieces of information, if you will, and they are indeed adverse, and that is, again, the point that is being brought up. When someone cries, “That person is doing terrible things to me!” and it is true, what’s happening is not that they are trying to discredit the person. Rather, they are stating a fact.
Finally, the last two.
“Fallacy of the single cause: It is assumed that there is one, simple cause of an outcome [racism leads to the deaths of Brown and Garner] when in reality it may have been caused by a number of only jointly sufficient causes.”
“Furtive fallacy: Outcomes are asserted to have been caused by the malfeasance of decision makers.”
These last two. I just don’t know how they are derived from the three words, “Black Lives Matter”. In fact, none of these fallacies can be derived from those words. One has to be bringing in one’s own assumptions, and it is quite clear here that the assumptions made have not been scrutinized. It can be none other than an “appeal to motive” fallacy, assuming that the motive of people shouting “Black Lives Matter” is to discredit and defame other people.
In fact, to nerd it up a bit, this whole piece is what the webcomic “Existential Comics” calls the “fallacy fallacy”. Listing a bunch of fallacies and their definitions as a way of arguing against something is not, in fact, a valid form of argumentation. It is merely misleading, dishonest, and a fallacious appeal to logic in order to discredit something that likely makes you uncomfortable.
And remember, even if the Black Lives Matter movement’s arguments WERE fallacious, that doesn’t mean their conclusions are wrong. You have to make an argument for WHY their conclusions are wrong, whether their arguments themselves hold up or not.
I will apply the principle of charity here and say that this person is, as they say, for black lives, so I won’t call them outright racist. But their insensitivity to actual racist prejudice shows that they are at the very least hopelessly ignorant. And, for the record, these arguments ARE used by racists, so using them at all is a form of racism. These attempt to break down the Black Lives Matter arguments based on three words, instead of sitting down and actually listening and conversing with the people who cry those words, is all part of how white people preserve the white narrative.
And yes, I am aware of committing multiple fallacies, and it was my intention to do so. This is a rant, after all.
Black History Teaching
Now let’s turn to the teaching of Black History itself. “Why do they get a whole month!” white students cry rhetorically in my imagination. If you do not know the correct reply already, I won’t be the one telling you. From its inception, the idea of learning black history was seen as a disproportionately undue burden by whites.
Did you know that when African American History programmes were first created in the 1960s, they faltered? Predominantly white schools had problems creating curriculums that didn’t overwhelm white teachers and white students, who were so “culturally deprived” that they needed “every little thing [to] be explained and proved”. I remember well from high school how we accepted our white history without question, probably too much so. Why, then, is there a sudden outburst of critical thinking and philosophical doubt when we start having to learn black history?
To be sure, Black History should be taught not just as an academic exercise, nor merely to educate whites on a missing part — a black hole, if you will — of their own histories. Rather, the reason to teach Black History should be explicitly to empower blacks, whose historic “subjugation took ‘the form of multiple legal exclusions; limited and highly unequal economic well-being; little social respect; restricted social mobility; customarily accepted invidious social discrimination; and — in particular — submission to the authority of whites in most important spheres of life, such as occupation, residence, schooling and politics” (Merelman).
And we should certainly “make sure that the traditions and interpretations and values [teachers] pass on to their students reflect the total American past rather than a whitened summary.”
My point is, if you do not know the history of blacks — beyond that they originally came from Africa, were (officially) slaves for some period of time until a heroic white man in the White House set them free, were (officially) segregated for another period of time until a heroic white man in the White House signed a paper, and now they have someone in the White House — then you are contributing to systemic racism. If all you do, when you hear “Black Lives Matter”, is spit and throthe out logical fallacies, instead of sitting down and listening to their plight, then you are contributing to systemic racism. If when black people say they fear for their bodies, and all you have to say is that they are fear-mongering, then you are contributing to systemic racism. I didn’t get to it, but if you can’t see that Islamophobia and Racism often come hand-in-hand, as shown by the birther movement, then you are contributing to systemic racism. If you can’t see why we first have to learn black history, in order to catch up to hundreds of years of intentional ignorance and blatant lies, so that we can see that black history is not just history about and for black people, but all of our history, and should therefore be taught year-round, then you are contributing to systemic racism. And if you are contributing to systemic racism, even if you don’t want to, and you don’t even want to learn black history, well, maybe we won’t believe that you aren’t racist.
- Curtis, Edward E., IV (2005). “African-American Islamization Reconsidered: Black History Narratives and Muslim Identity”
- The Guardian. The Counted Police Killings US Database. http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2015/jun/01/the-counted-police-killings-us-database
- Melvin Drimmer (1969). “Teaching Black History in America: What are the Problems”. The Journal of Negro Education, vol. 38, no. 4, pp440-442
- Merelman, Richard M. (1993). “Black History and Cultural Empowerment: A Case Study”. American Journal of Education, vol. 101
- Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015). “Letter to My Son”. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/07/tanehisi-coates-between-the-world-and-me/397619/
- World Crass (2015). “‘Black Lives Matter!’ 3 words, 12 logical fallacies. Yes to black lives. No to sophistry, slander.” http://worldcrass.com/2015/07/28/black-lives-matter-youre-a-racist-3-words-12-logical-fallacies-tcot-derbqotd-dissidentright/