Tricks Used to Derail Arguments About Racism
As there seems to be an influx of readers and people on social media for longer periods because of the pandemic forcing many of us to lose our jobs and stay at home to protect ourselves and loved ones, there is also a rise in the same comments, arguments (term used loosely) and claims that, when hammered down to their base statements, amount to nonsense or “strawman logic".
But what is strawman logic? And what does it mean for discussions regarding equality and racism maintained by the white, capitalist patriarchy?
Strawman Logic Doesn’t Make Sense
The term “strawman argument” is also known as an informal fallacy and is the act of arguing by making statements to refute a claim that, when analyzed, refutes a claim that was never made in the first place. It’s basically taking a person’s statement and thinking of the most extreme thing and claiming that’s what they meant.
Here’s a simple example of strawman logic. A parent tells a kid they can’t have a snack because they’ve already eaten three of them and the kid responds that their parent wants them to starve. That’s the distortion.
Some people will easily confuse strawman logic with implied statements or dog whistles (phrases and terms used in politics and elsewhere that target a particular group, usually by race); however, they are not the same.
Dog whistles are used by politicians to give coded language or phrases that only a particular group would recognize. Though the phrase seems to have been coined in the 90s it was used long before that, as Lee Atwater’s recording that using the n-word, in the late 1960s, backfires so you have to use economic phrases that will, in essence, target Black people without saying you’re targeting Black people demonstrates. Similar to when someone describes an individual as “ethnic” it often means Black person or, at the very least, not visibly white.
Challenging what a statement means when it’s this kind of coded language is necessary to lift the veil of civility off the racist individual or group. Unfortunately, we will continue to encounter people hiding their racism behind the screen of what is “economically best”.
An example of this would be if a person said they wanted to tax sugar beverages like soda (which has actually happened), we could argue that they are financially hurting a particular group who, oftentimes, are unable to buy the “healthier” beverages and said group is often the most marginalized, (Black people and people of color) which comes down to race. Thereby, it levies increased financial burden on a particular group and, though other groups will be impacted, the focus is harm to a specific group while the rest are collateral damage. That’s targeted increased, economic hardship at the BIPOC communities.
How It Is Used In Discussions About Race
Another strawman argument that is usually employed, through genuine entitlement or as an attempt to shift or derail a discussion is the “what about us" or “us too" method.
This complaint rears its racist head again and again. The situation arises when a group, Black, Indigenous, or other societally targeted group, creates a space reserved for their impacted group and does not allow for those outside to share in the space. This releases a maelstrom of, typically hurt or entitled (same difference) people who cry discrimination and claim the group wants to eventually do what white people in this society have done for centuries: raise their people up while holding white people down. All they want is a space where they do not to be on the defensive from white fragility and aggression.
Another example is white people claiming that Toni Morrison wrote for everyone. When others pointed out that Toni Morrison herself stated she writes “for Black women”, white people went on a tangent crying everything from reverse racism to screaming they’re being told not to read Toni Morrison because they are not welcome. The original statement made has nothing to do with that. It was simply a statement telling white people don’t rewrite history to claim that Toni Morrison wrote for everyone because she clearly stated she did not.
Another situation would be around the discussion online asking white people whether they would shoot a dog to save a Black man’s life. I wrote a piece discussing it and some of the comments were that it’s a shame I don’t like animals. Most of my life I’ve had pets around me. I can remember few points in time growing up that I didn’t have a cat or a dog. Yet, because I agreed there is an issue with white people valuing dogs above Black people’s lives, the conclusion for them is something I never stated and which is patently false.
An additional instance commonly seen online is when a Black women points out she is being mistreated at work by a white male coworker or boss, white women will jump in saying they’ve had a similar experience from their male boss as well. Sometimes they will leave it at that, other times they will point out what the first statement implies: that this is an issue of the patriarchy and not racism because they (white women) go through it too.
Sometimes, rarely, these statements made will be nothing more than a genuine attempt to let the other person (in this example, the Black women) know they are not alone. However, the implication is that the Black women is making it about race when it’s not; thereby derailing discussions of how we can improve the workplace to make it an real environment of inclusion for people who are not white, and shifting it to how can we dismantle the patriarchy.
We’ve All Done It
We’ve all made this mistake when it comes to situations and experiences that are not our own. Partially because we want to be included in groups that we are not a part of and also because we are trying to find the common denominator in them, as though we are children figuring out simple multiplication, to solve the issue.
If a child has to multiply 6 x 8, and doesn’t know it they search for one they do know. So maybe 5 x 8. But not they run into a problem because they are not sure what to count by. Many will either count by 5, making 6 x 8 = 45, or by 6, making 6 x 8 = 46. The clue is to look at the number that shows up in both equations — 6 x 8 and 5 x 8 both have 8 so that is what the child should be counting by.
Similarly, we look at the problem in the workplace and see the issue that shows up in both is a man so we take this to be the underlying problem that needs to be solved.
We forget that discrimination and microaggressions exist at varying levels and that because more than one trait or aspect is housed within an individual, they can be victims of workplace harassment on multiple levels simultaneously that reflect those aspects.
We are always taught to look for “common ground” as though nothing can be achieved without this initial connection. Perhaps all this does is remove the need to work at connecting with those outside our experiences. Perhaps this is taught and not innate. We are instructed to seek out what we share rather than what makes us different and so we don’t explore any deeper. Maybe it’s time to do away with that thinking. Maybe it’s long past.