Charity, Straw-men and Race

I only came to accept that I was racist after being prompted by a disturbing thought: I had no compelling reason, other than social pressure, to consider other races as intellectually equal. Perhaps there really were racial differences! This slave-era thought horrified me when I located it within. It could quickly be used to justify the subjugation of groups to my will.

The proportion of intellectual whites to non-intellectual whites that I was acquainted with was abysmal. But there were particular whites that I could pick out as intelligent and respectable, though they were heavily outnumbered. I internally represented my race with some of its best offerings. The charitability towards my own race was not extended to (most) others. I had no acquaintance with black thinkers, especially—I was only aware of MLK through snippets used in poor social-studies curriculum and Dodge Ram ads. Frederick Douglass was remembered as basically white, and James Baldwin wasn’t a name I’d heard. Lawrence Ware’s appearance on the PEL podcast made my unknown presumption known.

I had dealt (mentally) with the black community unfairly by essentially subjecting them to a sort of straw man. I had demanded proof of their intellectual capability and equality rather than presuming that, though I was ignorant of particulars, i had no reason to doubt their existence. The inference from “I know of no black intellectuals” to the suggestion that “the black community may not have the same intellectual capabilities as mine” is spurious. But, I think, that this is the sort of inference key in maintaining racist (and sexist) mindsets. So long as a positive trait is not encountered in the particular experience of a person in regards to race or sex, and perhaps it’s contrary is encountered, the person may be doubtful that the positive trait is able to be as fully instantiated in the group in question as it is in theirs (or ones in which they do experience the positive trait).

This way of thinking essentially asks the group to prove their worth to you: it shifts the burden of proof on those who shouldn’t have to bear it. Our experience is not exhaustive and is often limited by social and cultural constraints. But if one can’t overcome their faulty presumption (perhaps even faulty intuition) that this inference is proper, here’s an easy defeater: go look at the smart, courageous, exemplary people you consider as outside your racial (or whatever) group.

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