It’s great that you’ve outlined your thoughts on this issue and I think you make some excellent points on understanding cultural norms that we may not even think about. I do, however, have one concern that I know has been voiced in a few other comments (and apologies if you have answered this somewhere else in the comments already!), and it centers on this:
This is why I sat in a discussion group on race and was angry that a white man was telling me we should “rise above emotions” and “get to the heart of the matter” by talking about race intellectually and avoiding emotions.
Why do we need to center a discussion about racism in the white cultural experience?
Let me be clear about one thing: emotions are an essential component of the human experience. We all have them, we’ll never be rid of them (nor should we), but we should always remain cognizant of both their presence and how they could be affecting us (see the countless cases of the emotions of anger/hatred leading to terrible atrocities throughout history, mob justice, xenophobia, racism, etc). One can get angry during an argument (we’re not robots), and one can even raise their voice in exasperation. I certainly have. That’s not quite my issue.
My issue is that to suggest that having a logical, reasoned, empirical discussion is a “white” cultural norm is incredibly dangerous and completely incorrect. For several reasons.
- It’s ahistorical. Sure, Western Philosophy has a long and storied tradition of logical methodology and scientific thinking dating back to the ancient Greeks, but there have been many other civilizations around the world that engaged in this sort of thinking over the centuries. It doesn’t belong to white culture, it belongs to everyone
- It shifts our notion of truth as fact (something corresponding to a part of reality) and instead substitutes subjective experience or thought (something that in this day and age is highly suspect, whether it be eyewitness accounts that are horrendously inaccurate or anti-vaxxer/anti-climate change individuals that don’t think the “facts” as presented by scientists are correct). This is the big point, and it’s really disturbing to see this view promulgated, especially in light of the anti-intellectualism that seems to be more and more prevalent in society).
I am just as concerned about the plight of black Americans as anyone else, and I can’t stand any form of oppression (feel free to view this comment to get my thoughts as they relate to another article on race and injustice). It seriously bothers me that human beings are getting killed for doing nothing but breathing the same air I do. But that doesn’t in any way entail that facts and rigorous analysis are out to the window, to be replaced by subjective narrative. The fact that I read articles that mathematically delineate how skewed things are when it comes to sentencing, or shootings, or wealth, or educational attainment is the very reason I know there is a serious problem in this country. That would never be possible if I listened to a few one off accounts of potential racism, as I wouldn’t understand the scale of the problem.
I agree with you on so many points John. But this one seems like a move in the wrong direction. Logical/empirical thinking is so damn important when it comes to understanding our world. Indeed, its this very mode of thinking that leads to people understanding that things like slavery (or racial inequality for that matter) are absurd.
I’m hoping to hear from you, as you’ve been excellent when it comes to generating solid discussions in the comments. Thank you again for writing this thought provoking article!