Part 0.5 (Preface, cont'd):
If you'd prefer to learn via audio, you can listen to Parts 0 and 0.5 here (42 minutes long):
Thanks for your open-mindedness and for continuing on to this page.
Let's keep going.
What about "cancel culture" (i.e., publicly "canceling" people by shaming them on social media)?
- First, let me be clear: "Cancel culture" has gotten out of control. My politics are highly progressive-leaning, but I also very much believe this is one of the biggest problems with my "side" right now
- Many people have gotten confused about the purpose of "canceling." There's a lot of nuance here, but here's basically how this is meant to work:
- Let's say the CEO of a large company says or does something that a lot of people consider racist
- The first step should not be to publicly shame them. Ideally, people close to that person will speak with them and help them understand that what they said or did was not ok. Ideally, the CEO will be convinced and publicly apologize
- If, however, the CEO ignores those people and brazenly repeats their racist behavior, that's when it becomes more reasonable to create social media campaigns calling them out
- To be clear though, publicly calling them out in this way is only ok because this is a person who has a huge amount of institutional power. Their words and behaviors shape the lives of their employees and others, so their being racist is not harmless. It directly affects other people
- Unfortunately though, some social justice advocates (typically referred to as SJW's or Social Justice Warriors) take this practice way too far
- They apply those same tactics to average people, not just those who hold positions of institutional power.
- For example, they'll publicly shame an average person for using the wrong word or displaying ignorance about a social justice concept that's actually quite new
- In other words, they'll hold regular people to standards that are often too high, and they'll shame them instead of trying to help them understand and improve their behavior
- That's not ok. Publicly shaming people is not acceptable behavior. It can completely ruin their lives
- Instead of "calling out," the better approach for most situations is "calling in"—meaning addressing problematic behavior in a private, non-confrontational way. The goal is not to shame a person, but to educate them and support them in their growth
- Here's an excellent podcast episode about the relationship between cancel culture and trauma
What about SJW's (social justice warriors, i.e., people who very publicly crusade for a cause, shame people who don't do it 100% correctly according to them, and engage in debate without finesse)?
- When it comes to Social Justice Warriors, there can be a range of causes for their behavior depending on the person and the situation:
- They might truly care about their cause but simply lack the social grace of engaging respectfully
- They might be working through their own trauma or rage (around even an unrelated topic) and feel the need to vent it somehow
- They might just enjoy provoking people
- They might feel like all the burdens of the world are on their shoulders and they have to rescue everyone, even people who don't need to be rescued
- In any case, there's certainly room for improvement in how a lot of them get their points across
- But what I'm more interested in exploring here is this: Largely because of the SJW phenomenon, it can become easy to think of people you disagree with as "crazy," and you might find yourself quickly dismissing their fears and concerns by labeling them "outrageous" or "unreasonable" in your mind
- The downside is that it's become easy now to dismiss many claims and fears that actually are grounded in legitimacy (even if you don't realize it in that moment)
- It's easy to label everything "political," and it's easy to feel pushed toward more jadedness and more callousness at a time when the world needs the opposite
- Yes, it might be more work to have to take more of the claims you hear seriously, but there are a few risks in dismissing them too easily:
- Dulling your feelings—over time, you might wall yourself off from a capacity to feel all your feelings like empathy
- Missing the truth—you might feel satisfied that you fully understand an issue when there's actually a lot more depth to it if you dig a bit deeper
- So, the question is: To what degree is each claim rational and heartfelt versus a product of outrage (whether manufactured, misguided, or poorly communicated)?
- Here are several ways to figure that out:
- Look at the source of the message and gauge that person or publication's history and reputation
- How often do they "cry wolf"? Does it seem like they're coming from a place of kindness or divisiveness? What kind of background, formal education, or credentials do they have?
- Please be careful here: Life experience can be a valid credential too. If a Black person says they feel offended by a word you as a White person used, they don't need a PhD in sociology to be able to say it made them feel bad because of all the other times in their life they've heard that term used in a very negative way
- Educate yourself about the topic (ideally by reading experts in the field, or at least something less biased than a mainstream news network) and see how reasonable their claims seem to be
- Examine how much of a burden it would really be to just agree versus fighting against it. How much of a burden are they placing on you? Is this person saying something closer to "that word hurts my feelings, please don't use it around me," or closer to "the entire way you live your life offends me, you need to leave and never come back here"? In other words, if they're asking for something small that would mean a lot to them, maybe it makes sense to just give it to them, even if it feels less than 100% reasonable or important to you?
- Look at the source of the message and gauge that person or publication's history and reputation
- Here's an example for you to evaluate for yourself: Several high-profile white people have sparked controversy over wearing blackface (stylized make-up to caricature a black person)—e.g., Justin Trudeau in 2001, Megyn Kelly in 2018, the Florida Secretary of State in 2019, and Jimmy Kimmel, who wore it in the 90s but only apologized in June, 2020. Where do those incidents fall on the spectrum of reasonable outrage versus ridiculous outrage?
- Like I suggested earlier, please start by being curious here: Why might people find that offensive?
- Next, to educate yourself, you can do a quick Google search of the term "blackface." You'll easily find a few useful links:
- The Wikipedia page explains that the practice of blackface gained popularity in the 19th century—that it "contributed to the spread of racial stereotypes" and that it's considered "offensive, disrespectful, and racist"
- One of the other prominent Google results is a page run by the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, which seems like quite a reputable source to me. On that page, they explain that a popular blackface character was Jim Crow, and it turns out that the "Jim Crow" racial segregation laws that were in place until 1965 were named after him. Those laws required Black people to use separate restrooms, restaurants, drinking fountains, and so on. In other words, blackface is associated with a set of laws and practices that were extremely oppressive toward Black people only a generation or two ago. This was an era during which nearly 4,000 brutal executions (lynchings) of Black people occurred, and the perpetrators were not tried
- Now's the step where you examine how much is being asked of you, and you weigh the negative impact on others versus the burden placed on you
- After weighing the "fun" or "edginess" of wearing blackface for Halloween against the harm it might cause to Black people to see that, do you feel it might make sense to err on the side of empathy and avoid that costume choice?
- And, do you think it's reasonable for us to call out prime ministers, secretaries of state, and prominent news anchors who wear blackface and tell them we don't think that's ok?
There is a paradox of tolerance.
Simply put: In a free society, people should be allowed to speak their minds. But, there also has to be a line where we won't tolerate something hateful enough.
The philosopher Karl Popper said that "in order to maintain a tolerant society, the society must be tolerant of intolerance."
The problem is that either side could make the argument that the other side is being intolerant of their views.
So again, I propose it comes down to empathy and intent.
To me, there's a clear difference in intent here:
- A Neo-Nazi being allowed to say that all Black people are inferior and deserve to die
- An SJW complaining that a politician or major brand said something that could be construed as racist, even if it seems like nitpicking
Yes, let's allow free speech. And, let's recognize a key nuance: that the root of #1 above (the Neo-Nazi) is fear-based hate, whereas the root of #2 (the SJW) is care and a desire for justice and equity for all (even if it's not communicated in the ideal way).
If you feel like you already have a lot of disagreements with the racial justice movement, can we at least agree on a few starting points here?
There is currently major wealth inequality in the United States, and it's been rising
- If you're born into a wealthy family, you have very different opportunities than if you're born into a poor family
- Yes, there are cases where someone goes from poor to being a millionaire, but most people born poor will stay poor
America was founded on highly-racist structures like slavery
- Things have gotten better over time, but there were still hundreds of years of highly racist laws, policies, and attitudes that kept Black and Indigenous people poor (e.g., by denying them the ability to get higher-paying jobs or the ability to move into more affluent neighborhoods with better schools)
Therefore, if this country's policies kept people of color poor and poor people tend to stay poor, it's fair to say that structural racism is at least partly responsible for wealth inequality between White people and people of color
- That in turn leads to stereotypes, discrimination, and other challenges for people of color
- I hope you can broadly agree with those points, even if each one isn't yet 100% clear to you. This website will explain each one in more detail (along with a lot of other related details), so I hope you'll keep reading to learn more
- But, if you feel 100% firmly entrenched in your position against points like those, then I’m afraid this might not be the right website for you. Thanks anyway for visiting
If you're in a disagreement over a heated topic like race or gender—particularly if you've been told that something you did or said was hurtful—please try this 3-step process:
Practice being curious: Why might someone have been offended?
- Could there be some context or knowledge you're lacking?
- Is it possible that the person offended here has had very different life experiences from you?
- To what degree have you seriously investigated this topic versus relying on hearsay or what seems obvious?
What could you do to educate yourself and better understand the subject?
- What are the top pages that come up when you Google the topic?
- Could you try reading one from a different source than you would usually check?
- Or, if you don't feel motivated enough to research the topic, what would it cost you to just trust that the offended person is right?
How much is really being asked of you here?
- If you weigh the burden or hardship placed on you to apologize or change your behavior versus the potential negative impact on others if you don't do that, what seems more reasonable? What seems more kind?
I'm just sick of all this. When is the news going to move on to a new topic?
Lately, you might have found yourself thinking something like:
- “Things are getting crazy now. Every single time a Black person is killed, there's a huge overblown media sensation. White people are killed by police too, and what about all the other problems in this country like the pandemic? Isn’t this issue getting too much attention? Yes, I agree that racism is bad and killing Black people is bad, but the protests have gone on long enough, and they've been too violent. We got the message.”
First, know that I’m not going to say you’re a bad person. I don’t want you to feel shame, because that’s one of the worst feelings for a person to experience
- I think that, in general, it's important for all of us to be able to express our thoughts without being publicly insulted. And, I think it’s also important for all of us to be open to hearing other perspectives too
- So, please try now to be open to learning more about why a lot of people might be offended hearing you say that this whole issue is overblown or that you're sick of hearing about it
- I'll offer two responses below
Response #1: The reality of the protests isn't always what's being depicted in the news.
Please remember that the news is in the business of ratings
- Most news sources in this country will play what's going to rile people up so they keep watching
- At this point, the most ratings will come from highlighting the worst parts of the protests—violence and looting. Even if thousands of people gather peacefully, they'll focus the camera on the five people who are lighting something on fire (I often think about this series of images). Here’s a great 5-minute video about how this is happening right now with the protests
- Again, both sides of the political spectrum have been at fault here. The liberal news media might sometimes stoke more outrage than is helpful, and the conservative media might sometimes stereotype all the protesters as violent extremists
Bottom line: Please be careful to not let your impression of racial justice activism be too distorted by what you’re seeing on the major news networks
- These are normal people out there protesting injustice—very few are violent, very few are part of extremist groups, and they all keep protesting because they feel that more action is still necessary
Response #2: Please take the time to keep closely examining your thinking.
It's important to remember just how easy it is for us to have knee-jerk reactions as humans
- It's so easy for us to get locked into the same stories in our heads and to filter all new information through an existing lens that feels familiar to us
- That's how so many of us are able to feel so jaded a lot of the time. It's really easy to take the attitude that our political system is broken, bad things are happening in the world all the time, and it’s just too much—nothing can be done
- Already in the midst of the protests, yet another unarmed Black man was shot and killed by a White police officer, sparking even more protests. I want to encourage you to really pause and examine your reaction to that
What story is coming up in your mind?
- Maybe it’s something like: “The Black guy was resisting arrest; what did he think would happen?”
- Or maybe something like: “Ugh, not again. Why do they have to make a big story about every single death, especially when lots of people in America are dying everyday from all sorts of causes?”
Now pause again, and ask yourself what exactly you’re saying here. What exactly are you frustrated about? Really check in with yourself. Here are some possibilities:
- Is it that you feel sad about all the other people who die every day in America without their stories appearing on the news? Do you think this Black man’s story is eating up all the air time such that the other stories aren’t able to be shared? Is that your concern—that there’s limited time on the news and we should be using it to cover other important subjects that you feel are being neglected because of the focus on police, protests, and Black deaths?
- Do you feel annoyed that everyone keeps talking about Black people being killed but you know nothing is going to change, so it feels like all the complaining is useless?
- Do you believe that each of these Black men who’s killed must have had it coming, even though Black men are three times more likely to be killed by police than White men?
- Do you believe that all people of color who are being arrested should have to remain perfectly calm, level-headed, and deferential to avoid being killed? Is that a reasonable expectation? Do you believe that if police kicked down your door in the middle of the night in a no-knock raid—like they did with Breonna Taylor—that you would be perfectly calm?
- Do you feel like people have complained about this subject enough and now they should just wait? That our leaders have probably gotten the message and we can now leave it to them to make the necessary changes to solve this problem? Does that seem reasonable? Do you genuinely believe that, if people stop protesting now, our leaders will take it from here and make major changes to our institutions?
- These aren’t meant to be “gotcha” questions. I’m genuinely encouraging you to examine your mind, identify the assumptions you’re making, and follow your line of thinking
- By the way, I’m guilty of some of this type of thinking too. I often notice how easy it is for me to think that police must only use force against really violent criminals, and it's even easier for me to convince myself that I’m powerless to do anything about all this
- It takes active effort for me to keep re-examining stories like those as they so easily pop up in my mind
- One trick I recommend is to practice thinking to yourself, "The story I'm telling myself right now is..." (beyond just race issues, this is very helpful in relationships too)
- If you’re wondering, “why do we keep spending so much time focusing on this one source of pain in the world,” my answer is this: Yes, there are a lot of problems in the world. But this is the one that's being highlighted right now. This is the call to action that's being raised in our country in this moment. This is the opportunity to address a type of injustice that has been perpetuated for 400 years in this country
- So ask yourself this: If you agree that Black men being killed by police at three times the rate of White men is unjust, do you think that should be fixed? And if so, should we keep waiting? Or should we seize this unique opportunity in history when so many forces are aligning around this topic to keep pushing until real change occurs?
- Yes, making big changes is hard. But when has there been a better time to address this topic than right now? You know how these things go: Real change at a systemic level is slow going unless something big happens. Look at how much changed right after 9/11
- So can we make now the time that this change happens for racism? Can we let George Floyd's death be the catalyst for that? Or do we need to keep waiting for more and more deaths to occur and for one of those deaths to strike such a chord that somehow that will feel like the right time?
- I understand that you're tired of hearing the same thing all the time
- Believe me: We all are. If you're tired of having to see it on the news at night, think about all the people who have been marching every single night for over 3 weeks
- Think about the Black parents who have had to teach their kids about the very real dangers of being shot by a police officer and how they have to be on their very best behavior whenever they're pulled over to avoid being killed (and even then they might be unlucky)
- I understand that you're tired, and they are too. Let's do something about it
I want to leave you with one more reminder that applies to all of this.
I know this might seem redundant by now, but this point is so, so easy to lose track of.
Practice noticing if you find your mind switching to the jaded, dismissive, reactionary mindset that we're so often pushed into in this country
- This happens to me too, and it requires vigilance and mindful awareness
- It's become so normalized for us all to be in a headspace of "us versus them," and "those people are crazy," and "that request is ridiculous"
- That's just not a pleasant way to be in the world. It simply feels better to be oriented toward connecting with other people rather than pushing them down
- But, it can be easy in our society to feel unconsciously pulled toward a hierarchical and combative way of seeing the world (in Part 5, I'll explore how anti-racism work actually benefits white people too because it helps us question a variety of norms in our society that hurt all of us)
Cultivating that mindset of openness requires practice, though. So, notice when you see a headline and immediately have a visceral negative reaction come up
- Maybe the headline is a call to rethink how we treat a certain holiday, like Thanksgiving
- Maybe it's a suggestion to use an unfamiliar word to refer to a group of people (like BIPOC)
- Maybe it's a story that seems ridiculous because a public figure or influencer has seemingly overreacted to something (you might find yourself thinking, "you can't say anything anymore," or "why does everything have to turn into a big deal nowadays")
In any of those cases, please be careful to not jump straight to thinking, "Here we go again—yet another example of those crazy people freaking out." Instead, please remember the three-step process I proposed:
- (1) Practice being curious. Why might this be important to some people? Might they have some information that you don't? Might this be one small piece of a much larger, more complex puzzle and you're only seeing one or two of the pieces?
- (2) Is there some way you could educate yourself about the subject? Or, if you don't feel motivated to research more, that's totally fine. But in that case, could you agree that there might be more to the issue that you're not seeing rather than deciding that it's stupid?
- (3) How much is really being asked of you here? Is it an unreasonable burden? What is the level of negative impact on you versus on other people? What if you just accepted it if it's so important to the people pointing it out?
- Finally, please recognize that—when it comes to race and racism in the United States—we're talking about huge, complex structures that have been oppressing people of color for 400 years. Fixing all that will require asking some tough questions that will be uncomfortable. So yes, that might include taking a hard look at some of our well-established ways of doing things in this country
- Freedom, liberty, and safety are likely important to you, especially if you identify as conservative or libertarian. Let's make sure that that those things are available to all Americans