Part 0 (Preface):
Political correctness, identity politics, SJWs, and shaming— why it's so hard for us to talk with each other, and how we can do better
If you'd prefer to learn via audio, you can listen to Parts 0 and 0.5 together here (42 minutes long):
Welcome, and thank you for being willing to read this.
Before we can even begin to properly talk about race, I'd like to address the elephant in the room: We need to be able to talk with each other, regardless of our political affiliations. We need to be able to share our thoughts without being shamed. We need to be able to ask questions.
This webpage is not political—I won’t mention the current administration or any political party. I also don't feel like the United States is a bad country (and, because we care about it, let's keep improving it and its institutions).
In Part 1 of this website, I'll share my own journey around anti-racism (and how it took me a long time to realize that I'd been misinformed for most of my life). Then, in Part 2, I'll share some of the historical facts that began to open my eyes. In Part 3, I'll begin to explore how that history affects the world today.
But before we get to all that, let's start with the elephant in the room I mentioned.
Why did I add this Preface to my anti-racism website?
I wrote this page in late June, 2020 in response to several things associated with the George Floyd protests and our society's increased focus on anti-racism (as well as the associated divisiveness around that):
- I've been having honest conversations about race with friends and family who identify as conservative, and I'm wanting to make sure they feel heard and aren't told that they're bad people
- I've been hearing the stories of friends who—despite identifying as progressive—are still being insulted or silenced for not being "woke enough" or accidentally using the wrong word with the best of intentions
- I listened to the June 12, 2020 episode of Sam Harris' podcast (which was quite thought-provoking; I agreed with some parts, and at other points I felt that Sam missed some of the bigger picture and historical context—which makes sense, because there's a lot of nuance here)
- I've been observing the disconnect between what people are willing to say openly at work about the protests and what they say on anonymous chat platforms like Fishbowl
- My passion for anti-racism work is ultimately coming from a place of empathy and from wanting to reduce oppression. But, even in pursuit of that, I want to extend empathy to all humans, even white people who might not feel fully on board with the movement
You might be wondering who I am, what my credentials are, and if I can be trusted to approach this topic with logic and rationality.
- In terms of rationality and critical thinking:
- My day job is in management consulting, where I work with leaders at some of the top companies in the world to solve complex challenges
- I studied computer science in college, and I did postgraduate research at the #1 university in Asia
- I've also spent a lot of time in the LessWrong community (a group focused on promoting rationality)
- You can read my full professional bio here
- In terms of anti-racism:
- I don't have any formal credentials here, but I've read a lot of books, examined hundreds of articles by scholars and experts, attended dozens of hours of workshops over the past year, and participated in a white affinity anti-racism group every week for nearly a year
- I won't claim to have any kind of formal certification or degree in this topic, but the reason I'm a good management consultant is that I'm skilled at critically examining data and perspectives from a variety of sources, bringing different types of people together, and explaining complex topics in an approachable way
- That said, I will absolutely make mistakes, and I've been regularly updating this site as I receive feedback (please feel free to email me at michael AT michaelcaloz.com if you have any—I wrote my email address that way to reduce bot spam, so please switch AT to @)
Let's start by finding some common ground.
If you identify as progressive or counter-culture, you might be thinking it’s about time all this is being addressed
- You might think that law enforcement and other institutions are inherently racist, and that they're so broken that we might need to dismantle a lot of our society’s structures to start fresh
If you consider yourself conservative or you identify with Jordan Peterson or the Intellectual Dark Web movement, you might be thinking that progressives and activists are being swept up in emotions without taking a step back to critically examine what’s going on
- You might think progressives are focusing too much on political correctness, identity politics, or a single worldview that isn't based in rationality
Either way, our system of discourse is clearly broken right now in this country
- The second group I named is right in saying that anything anyone says right now can be weaponized. You can be fired for tweeting the wrong thing, and that's a dangerous state of affairs to be in
- But the first group is right that there are some major flaws in many of the institutions in this country. No matter to what degree you blame police killings on either structural racism or on the actions of individual police officers, I think we can all agree that the way George Floyd (and so many other Black people) died is not acceptable. We have to change something
So let’s start with some common ground. I hope we can all agree that:
- We need a better way of communicating with each other so that we’re not constantly walking on eggshells
- We need to be able to speak what we feel and ask questions without being shamed
And. Even if you're coming from a place of genuine curiosity, some questions or statements can have a very negative impact if they’re said in the wrong context and in the wrong manner
- For example, asking to what degree a particular police killing was motivated by race would land very differently with a white person than with a Black person whose unarmed friend or son had recently been shot and killed by a White police officer
- If you agree that the point above is true, then I hope you'll also agree that there exist issues that are quite sensitive. And—due to the amount of complexity inherent in a set of inter-related issues—it might not always be 100% clear what is appropriate versus insensitive to say in a given moment with a given audience
- Yes, again, sometimes sensitivity goes too far, but I hope you can at least agree that—depending on the situation—there does exist a spectrum from appropriate to inappropriate when it comes to sharing one's opinion or asking challenging questions
- There's a lot of room for improvement in how our country handles law enforcement, incarceration, education, and other major institutions (not even specifically related to race, but simply to say: if we were recreating those institutions from scratch in 2020, they would probably look different, right?)
- Not all conservatives or police are bigots, and not all liberals are Social Justice Warriors shaming people who ask questions (and yes, there are conservatives who are bigots and there are liberals who shame people, but they don't represent everyone)
- Ok, if you're mostly with me so far then we're already on the same page with some important points
Why this is so hard (especially if you’re skeptical of racial justice, political correctness, or identity politics)
This is all such a tricky dance for a number of reasons:
- The history of race and how it affects our country today is incredibly complex. I’ve spent hundreds of hours building this website, reading books, listening to podcasts, and talking to experts, and I still find a lot of these subjects hard to understand (and note that just because something is hard to understand—like quantum physics—doesn't mean it's wrong)
- It can be hard to admit we don’t understand something (especially in a public space like at work or on social media). Worse, a lot of our society frowns on public figures changing their minds about something, even if they’ve been presented with a compelling argument. So, we're encouraged to entrench ourselves and filter all new information through our existing lens to avoid cognitive dissonance (the uncomfortable feeling of holding two contradictory beliefs at once)
- People are scared and tired, so it can be easy to lose our tempers and lash out at each other
- It's important to critically examine evidence with logic and rationality; and, often the current culture of activism can encourage passionate displays of emotion where logic is not the #1 priority
- We shouldn’t be shaming people for their genuine curiosity. We should be allowed (and encouraged) to ask questions and to seek to better understand. We need to remember that not everyone has the same knowledge and education around every topic
- At the same time, it’s important to understand that all of us have had different life experiences, and sometimes those experiences are very different. It’s important to remember that—as a white person—it can be extremely hard to fully appreciate what a person of color’s life has been like in this country
- Given that, we can't expect everyone to show up all the time in full “rational analysis mode.” Sometimes people are going to be very angry, scared, tired, or frustrated—and for good reason
So yes, logic is important. And so are feelings. Please also recognize the complexity and inter-relatedness of all the systems at play around these topics
- For example, yes, it’s important to rationally examine the facts around a specific police killing. Yes, it’s true that not every single case of a white cop shooting an unarmed Black person is necessarily an indication that that particular cop is bigoted against Black people
- But it’s also important to take a step back and look at the whole system—at the patterns over time. If you stay zoomed in, you might say, “What do Black people expect to happen when they resist arrest?” But if you zoom out and look at the history that led up to this moment along with everything that those Black people have had to deal with in their lives—both of which this website will walk you through—I hope you’ll find some more empathy and realize that it’s a lot more complex than saying, “just stop fighting and you won’t be killed”
- As you read through this website, I hope you’ll realize that there are very, very good reasons why Black people are angry, why many resist arrest, and why it’s about a lot more than that. Telling them they should just be calm when there’s so much baggage involved in an interaction with law enforcement might seem reasonable to you; but, to a Black person, that might feel extraordinarily insensitive and ignorant
- Yes, rational analysis is important. Questions are important. And, as a fellow analytical thinker writing to you, please be careful to not sit so far in your analytical mind that you’ve numbed yourself to all the pain out there and distanced yourself from the violence being perpetuated every day in this country
What do we really mean by political correctness?
Can we find common ground?
- I dislike the concept of political correctness. When that term is used, I think it's either being misunderstood or it's being used as a stand-in to actually say something else beneath the surface
- To me, saying something simply to be “politically correct” means you’re saying it solely because you feel a need to protect yourself—that you actually believe something different but you feel that it’s unsafe to say the truth. And I don't mean that you're necessarily doing anything wrong. You might be worried that you'll get in trouble or be labeled a bad person if you speak your truth
- That doesn’t seem fair. You shouldn’t have to hide what you feel
- And, when it comes to certain subjects, you also need to recognize that your words might have a powerful negative impact (either intentional or unintentional) on other people
- Thus, it comes down to empathy. What you choose to say or don't say shouldn’t be about avoiding getting in trouble
- Rather, I would suggest thinking about it this way:
- (1) Ask yourself if what you're about to say might have a negative impact on someone
- (2) If so, is the value of your statement worth that cost?
- (3) Then, if you choose to make your statement anyway, please:
- (a) Take responsibility for it
- (b) Assess the impact
- (c) If that impact is more negative than you anticipated, hopefully you care to learn more about why
- So, I don't think it's helpful to think about this in terms of "political correctness." Instead, I think this is really about weighing the value of what you have to say with how it might impact others
- And yes, this is more work. It would be easier to just say whatever we want all the time. But is that the kind of person you want to be? If your loved one just died, would you be ok with someone making jokes about death? It's all about finding the right balance between under-sensitivity and over-sensitivity, which I'll get to in a moment
- Next, can we agree that there's so much complexity in the world today that none of us can be an expert on all the wide variety of life experiences out there?
- Therefore, isn't it inevitable that we might sometimes accidentally say something that's hurtful to someone without understanding why? And, in that case, can we prioritize being curious to learn what information we were lacking?
- Can you see how dismissing something as "just political correctness" allows us to avoid having to be curious? And how it implies that the issue the person is concerned about has no value?
- Again, I agree that sometimes people will react very aggressively if, for example, you use the wrong word without realizing its implications or baggage (and I empathize if you've been on the receiving end of that)
- So yes, there's work to be done on both sides. But can we all start by practicing more curiosity over judgment? Can we spend more time trying to understand the other person rather than already having the "right answer" in mind and trying to prove them wrong?
Yes, it would be difficult to move through life if every moment we had to be extremely on edge to avoid offending anyone.
So you have to find the right point on the spectrum of "not-caring" to "hyper-caring."
But here's the thing: As you'll read on this website, people of color (particularly Black and Indigenous people) have had to deal with 400 years of violence and oppression perpetuated on them because of their race.
Therefore, when it comes to the spectrum of "not-caring" to "hyper-caring," what you need as a White person to feel safe will inevitably be closer to the "not-caring" end than it will be for a person of color. They need more to feel safe.
So, if you want to have better relationships with people of color, it means moving your line at least a little toward the "hyper-caring" end, even if that feels a little over-the-top for what you feel you need.
What do we really mean by identity politics?
Can we find common ground?
- I think the idea of identity politics also comes down to a spectrum of caring—yes, apply rationality, and also try to lead with empathy and kindness when discussing complex issues that relate to core parts of how people see themselves
- For example, is being American important to you? Is being a father or a sister? Is being part of your church? Part of your subreddit? Part of your neighborhood?
- All of these things make up your identity, and it hurts to have them insulted if they're important to you
- What does identity politics actually mean (as related to race)? It's a term that's thrown around a lot, but here's what I think it comes down to:
- Anti-racism advocates believe that policies (across law enforcement, education, healthcare, etc.) should take into account everyone affected by them
- In other words, say a policy affects multiple large groups of people and each group has different needs in order to be kept safe, properly educated, kept healthy, etc. In that case, it makes sense to try our best to find solutions that will work for all of them and not just provide for one of the groups
- This country was founded by White people and run by them for the vast majority of its history. So, many of the policies we have in place around law enforcement, healthcare, etc. were created by White people (typically heterosexual White men)
- Thus, even with no malicious intent, it's inevitable that those people would pay more attention to how those policies affected people like them. It's only natural, especially if it's not obvious how the policies might affect people who lead very different lives
- Therefore, anti-racism advocates—or at least the ones I regularly connect with—would welcome two relevant things here:
- More representation from different identity groups (i.e., people of color in this case) in positions of leadership that are responsible for making policy decisions, and
- More consideration of how laws and policies might impact people differently who are not White, male, or heterosexual, including giving those people more of a voice to explain what they need themselves rather than having White people decide for them
- If you spend a lot of time following politics, it might seem like there's a whole lot more wrapped up in the phrase "identity politics"
- But I think it's important to strip away all the extraneous information around that and cut down to the core of it. Looking at those points I made above, do you find yourself passionately disagreeing, or are we on common enough ground to warrant more conversation?
Thank you for reading this far already.
Honestly, I know this is a lot, and I appreciate your being open-minded.