Being Right and Wrong at the Same Time

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Birmingham demonstrationThe nation is emotionally raw today. Murders do that to people, especially when people choose up sides like a nightmarish game of dodgeball and try to hit each other as hard as possible with a ball filled with concrete. A little emotion is a good thing, but it doesn’t often solve problems any more than all the thoughts and prayers in the world do. If it did, the planet would be a utopia.

Humans: Right and Wrong at the Same Time

Humans have an uncanny ability to be both right and wrong on the same issue at the same time. We are intent on ignoring the subject at hand and go trooping off into the weeds where we become lost and eventually swallowed by the swamp grass. We replace facts with nothing more than emotions, We repeat everything that seems to agree with our world view and refuse to give even a nod to the things that don’t.  When confronted with facts, we often twist and turn like a fish on a line to avoid them, obfuscate them, or just plain ignore them.

Mankind also has an unfortunate quirk — craving black and white, fully-developed opinions by gathering and interpreting “facts” in very, very gray ways. Nowhere is this more evident than our national obsession with race.

Many people view it as a zero sum game in which every action is an insult or hardcore evidence that the person with whom you disagree is intentionally a racist. There are emotional reasons for this, some of them good and some of them bad. But they are still emotional reactions, not necessarily backed up by facts. There are thousands of these situational opinions in the race debate, enough to fill the Internet. But for the sake of brevity there is one that is illustrative, if not far-ranging and complete.

The Concept of White Privilege

One point of view is that white males are imbued with the ability to walk the Earth like titans. Supporters of this view sometimes “blame” white males for their lot in life and simply stop there. They sometimes suggest white males should feel guilty about having it. But that argument ignores an important reality.

With few exceptions, most white males have little more personal control over their lot in life. Those on the low end of society, don’t always materially benefit from more perks than someone of color. They certainly lose livelihoods, are often underpaid, and subject to the same unfair decisions of the same knuckleheads that mistreat women and people of color. They usually don’t demand the privilege, they have it by an accident of birth. Apologizing for it would be like apologizing for being homeless.

Expecting them to not talk about their problems solves nothing. Their lot in life is to frequently be told to shut up because they have no reason to complain. While that is true in many cases, it is untrue in others. There is sometimes a zero sum idea at work that says for one group to have a voice, another has to give theirs up. This understandably upsets the people giving something up, even if it is necessary to give something up for the greater good. It also ensures the person who gave something up is not going to be predisposed to listen to you. This is not a good thing.

If you are the one on the short end of the stick you are still on the short end of the stick, regardless of whether you are a white man or a black woman. The difference is in the statistical likelihood that you are handed a particular stick. That is not a wholly racial issue, it is at least partially an opportunity or economic issue.

Emotion Interpreted Through an Emotional Lens

Note that much of what I just said is based in emotion, interpreted through an emotional lens, not statistics or facts. Now we’ll get to that.

On the other side of the coin, there are lots of facts to support the idea that minorities and women are more often handed the short end of the stick. Verifiably, blacks are much more likely to be stopped by police for minor reasons, more likely to be killed during the stop, are paid less, have higher unemployment, and experience more crime, just to name a few.

All of us try as hard as possible to explain that with black and white (as opposed to gray) interpretations of facts that are more complex. That is where the rub is. It gives rise to protests and movements like All Lives Matter. There are petitions and shouting matches and a million other ways we insist on dividing ourselves over what, is at its heart, a statistical reality. 

But, if you are white and refuse to grasp these hard, cold facts you will probably be called a racist regardless of how you view yourself. You are engaging in the same type of zero sum behavior as someone who believes all men have some sort of magical powers solely by virtue of external plumbing and skin color.

The Donald and the Mexican

Donald Trump is a classic example writ large. He is a rich, white male. He received many perks in life that a black person could barely imagine. He has never been poor or without the ability to get a job. To him what is called white privilege is simply “working hard”. But bankruptcies aside, he verifiably gained substantially more benefit for the work he did do in large part of because of who he is. His world is one in which racism does not exist and he is quick to tell you so at every opportunity. His “proof” is that “the blacks love me”, which is statistically and anecdotally untrue. A psychologist would call this self-delusion if they were being charitable — those who believe he has narcissistic personality disorder might be closer. This is what a true world-striding titan does. This is where your anger will be more productive. The minimum wage white dude behind the fryolator is not necessarily your enemy (though he could be). He may well be your ally.

It’s unbelievably easy to factually call Trump a racist boob. In fact, there are a growing number of Republicans quitting their party to avoid him for that very reason. Yet, he has a large number of followers, most of who see the world as he does.

Many of these same people get highly agitated when they are called bigots. At the same time they label his behavior the very definition of racist they continue to support his candidacy because he’ll eventually become more Presidential“.

Well, if you support a racist, and apologize for a racist, ignore statistics about race, and argue over whether you need a white heterosexual day there is a high probability you ARE a bigot. Look at the statistics.

Emotion Begets More Emotion

So the nation is at loggerheads. Blacks and whites spend inordinate amounts of time arguing over whether black or all lives matter. While both sides often use these as code, neither slogan is wrong and screaming at that instead of correcting inequities based on facts and logic doesn’t happen. A black person is as guilty of perpetuating division by telling a person that all lives matter is an invalid statement as a white person is by saying black lives don’t matter. But at the end of the day, both statements are true and both sides get to say their piece. In fact (not emotion), neither statement cancels the other. No one gives anything up and if we’re lucky we might be able to fill the void with some talk that actually promotes understanding.

Arguing over race us a largely emotional pursuit born of generations of emotional arguments that ignored facts and verifiable statistics. As a nation, we’d be much better off to stick more with the facts and less with the emotion. It leaves more room for honest emotion and not emotional games.

Let the facts speak for themselves because arguing over emotions only gets you more emotion.

Give Us Some Choice Words