A lot of people act like social issues are all black and white; that there is one “correct” side of the argument to be on and no amount of context or nuance can change that. If you know anything about me, you know that I strongly reject this way of thinking.
“The only thing truly evident about people who think that their positions are self-evident is their own intellectual laziness.”
This is a quote from internet-dude Hank Green, and ironically I am taking it out of its original context and co-opting it for the purposes of this blog. It’s possible that Hank might disagree with this blog or the ideas of this video, but the point here is that context matters.
As part of my ongoing conversation with my viewers about my issues with the way we communicate about important issues online, I decided to tackle a subject that is very frustrating to me whenever I see it. Namely the idea that black people can’t be racist. This a somewhat recent school of thought, but people shout it as if it’s completely common sense, and get into fierce debates with others over its truthfulness.
Anyone who is intellectually curious and honest can learn pretty quickly that what is meant by “black people can’t be racist” is “black people are disadvantaged by a system that benefits white people, therefore they can not be classified as oppressors.” This is basically true, at least in America. However, notice how the second version of that statement actually provides clarity and context, while just saying ‘black people can’t be racist’ is confusing and provocative.
Essentially this has come down to being a semantic argument–which is the worst kind–over what the definition of “racism” is. This is a perfect example of how people outright refuse to be civil and productive in conversations and just say things for the purpose of screaming at each other. One one side we have people saying something irritatingly baffling like “black people can’t be racist” while rarely providing the necessary context for that statement, but on the other side we have a complete lack of exploration and intellectual honesty about what people mean when they say things. We see a surface level disagreement and dismiss people based off of that.
In social discourse, we all have a responsibility to be intellectually honest. Even when we disagree on things. It’s not one person’s job to convince the other of something, while the other just sits around and waits to have their mind changed. Anyone who claims to care about society and making things better should actively pursue truth and actively pursue clarification from those they disagree with so they can have a properly contextualized idea of the situation. Sometimes people have stupid, one-dimensional beliefs, sure. But sometimes (probably most of the time), there’s more to uncover if only people gave a shit. Instead what we’re seeing is petty squabbles about surface level ideas that don’t even matter.