A Labelling Dilemma


I haven’t updated this blog in a long while, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure I was ever going to update again.  For one, my real-life job left me with little energy or motivation to write.  Also, it seemed as if I were beating my head against a wall.  While I do receive a number of friendly comments from like-minded people, or at least from people who are willing to respectfully disagree, I also get a lot of nasty comments from people who are just itching to tell me how wrong I am.  Well, that’s okay.  I don’t expect to sway those people’s opinions, just as I hope they don’t expect to sway mine.  If it makes you feel better to tell me what a moron I am, speak your peace and then get ye gone.  I’ve no more patience for trolls.

I encountered this meme on the Facebook wall of a friend who is typically pretty left-leaning, like me; a person whom the right would derisively call an SJW or social justice warrior.  If the meme contained only the second sentence, there wouldn’t be much to complain about; after all, Flying Spaghetti Monster knows we could stand more teamwork and unity.  But the first sentence is full of culpability shuffling, and there’s a nasty word that adds an extra dose of irresponsibility.  Can you spot it?

Before we get to that word, I’d like to talk about the hazards associated with saying “Not all _____ are _____.”  Even if the statement is true, there’s an obvious but oft-unstated follow-up clause: “Although some are.”  And it’s in this clause that social infection festers.  “Not all cops are bad.”  That’s very true.  There are lots of good, decent cops who would never dream of killing an unarmed man.  “But some are.”  And it’s the responsibility of the good cops to break the blue code of silence and speak out against the minority of police officers who abuse their power.  The justice system bears the onus of breaking through the shield that protects police officers who unjustly kill people.

“Not all whites are racist.”  In general, I agree with this statement.  To be sure, I think everybody occasionally has thoughts that would qualify as racist – that’s ingrained in us by our tribal roots –  but a reasonable person recognizes those thoughts for what they are, and declines to give them voice.  And he certainly never acts on them.  He tries to understand where those thoughts come from.  He doesn’t tweet them as if they are Truth Revealed, then marvel at the social backlash.

“But some are.”  Some whites are racist, and it is no longer enough for the rest of us to be non-racist.  We should aspire to be anti-racist.  We should speak out against people who lack a racist filter.  We may never convince them that their thoughts, words, and actions are wrong, but at least we can show them that they will not be accepted in a civil society.

Now let’s address the elephant in the room.  “Not all African Americans are thugs.”

“But some are.”  Do you see the problem?  The word thug has become a racist code word; a stand-in for the N-word.  In fact, this meme may as well have simply used the N-word, because the effect is the same. People who use the word thug in this context don’t just mean “folks who break the law”.  They mean “black folks who break the law”.

Now if you’re one of those white people who are thoroughly marinated in privilege and oblivious to racism, you might wail: “Political correctness strikes again!  We can’t ever say that black people commit crimes!”  But that’s rubbish, and you know it.  It’s okay to acknowledge that people of every race break the law and hurt others, but how easy would it have been to select a word that isn’t racially charged?  “Not all African Americans are criminals.”  “Not all African Americans are rioters.”  “Not all African Americans are looters.”  Any of those would have been preferable, because none of those words pack the same racist connotations as the T-word.  And you could reasonably follow any of those statements with “But some are, and they should be held accountable for their crimes, just as a person of any ethnic background would be held accountable for the same crimes.  They should not be punished more harshly than a white person would be, nor should they have a reasonable fear of being killed before they even see a jury.”

I’m all for unity, but this meme doesn’t inspire it.  It almost makes it seem as if the good cops and non-racist whites must condescend to acknowledge the non-thug African Americans.  Unity isn’t unity when one group thinks they are doing another group a favor by including them at all.