Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Are Racism and False Accusations of Racism Equal Problems?

I was struck by a cartoon circulated on the internets today:

This appears to be a classic case of "argument" by false equivalence. Both statements are true, in a sloppy linguistic sort of way. Racism does suck, and being falsely accused of it sucks too.

But surely these things aren't the same? Racism runs the gamut from brief social encounters to deadly violence. But for those who experience it, it is a constant and life-altering force. Read, for example, this piece written for CNN by an educated black professional living near (but not in) Ferguson, MO. Even minor forms of racism, repeated day after day after day, can ruin a life.

On the other hand, if I (being white) am falsely accused of racism, is that going to ruin my life? Will it happen to me every day? Will it make me wonder whether my children will come home safe at night? Am I likely to be killed because of a false accusation of racism? In all likelihood, a false accusation of racism in my life would lead to an uncomfortable day or two until I have a chance to explain myself and reconcile with my accusers. And even if I am unsuccessful in that, I will likely leave the incident behind and go on with my life largely unchanged.

So why engage in this kind of false equivalence? I can speculate but I really don't know. I suspect that, at root, this is a classic example of dog whistle politics. It's not really a message intended for me, because I'm not in the tribe this is speaking to. And like all tribal messages, this one isn't concerned with logic or argument - it's about identity, in this case an exclusionary identity more interested in circling the wagons than in engaging with people outside their own boundaries. It's the kind of speech that divides rather than unites.

And that sucks.


  1. Another superb piece. I'm going to share it. Thanks!

  2. Oddly enough, the meme referenced doesn't say they are equal. It is a truism that racism sucks. It is also a truism that being falsely accused of racism sucks. The two situation merely suck in different ways.

    It is indeed a false comparison, however, far too many are missing the point of the cartoon and inferring an equivalence where there is none.

  3. Great post; thanks! I am currently enrolled in a multicultural counseling class and have been looking for a simple, clear explanation of false equivalence to share with the class. This is it.