A middle class and over-educated white woman shares her brilliant thoughts on racism

As the title may suggest, I feel unqualified and almost idiotic for posting about racism in the aftermath of Charlottesville. But I also feel weird not saying anything, because silence in these cases makes it seem like I’m apathetic at best, and a closet white supremacy sympathizer at worst. So here are a few rambles I have. If you see issues with any of this, I welcome respectful dialogue. My point is not to say “I’M RIGHT!” but “This is where I’m coming from.” But I’m a life-long learner, so .. fire away.

Human lives were lost 

As soon as a tragedy happens, each political side eagerly points out how the ideology and policies that the “other side” promoted caused the problem. It’s so predictable I would think it was funny, except it’s also sickening. Look, I even give myself space to grieve for a while after I put down my little research rats. Can we not do that for a human life? Would we really rather downplay or ignore the loss of a human life than accidentally express support for a political view we don’t share? Eck.


Let me be clear – white supremacy is both terrifying and infuriating. I 100% condemn this strange neo-Nazi uprising. Now, is my experience with mainly upper-middle class and overly educated people of all races especially relevant to the racial discussion? Probabblyyyyy not.  So when stuff like this happens, one of the most respectful things I can think of is to just shut up for a day or two (reduce the noise) and let other people’s voices be heard (increase the signal).

Trump is an orange herring

Did I vote for Trump? No.* Do I resent the blanket accusations toward Trump supporters? Um, yes. Many people I know and love voted for Trump – some hesitantly, some enthusiastically. And guess what? Many of them are vehemently NOT racist.** Demanding that Trump supporters bear the responsibility for each and every one of his buffooneries is asinine. Moreover, blaming Trump generally for racial conflict is asinine. Remember how everyone stopped being racist when Obama was the President? Oh yeah.. me neither. Look –Trump’s rhetoric seems to have emboldened some extremist groups to organize and “go public,” and that’s not okay. But he didn’t create racism, and he’s one orange man. Over-focusing on him and everything he tweets is a waste of your emotional energy. Even more so, funneling your frustration and hatred over racism toward Trump voters at large is counter-productive. Racial harmony is going to require the cooperation and heart-change of people of all races. Antagonizing, accusing, and insulting an entire group of people (a sizable proportion of which hated Hillary more than they loved Trump, I’d wager) is going to further alienate them when we need to bring them into the fold. As a final point – if Trump supporters, white males, or whoever are obligated to post something so that people don’t think terrible things about them, is it really meaningful?

Embracing the tension

I’m afraid that if I “scratch that itch,” by posting something about Charlottesville – it will give me a false sense of accomplishment. I will soak up the approval of my anti-racist friends, and we’ll pat each other on the back for not being “part of the problem.” And then what next? I will sip my tulsi tea and serenely read a theological book in the safe confines of my gated apartment complex. So I rather know that I’m not doing anything than feel self-satisfied at doing something that cost me nothing and actually gained me some social media cred.

What to do?

That being said, I would really rather do something. But what? This may shock you, but many people in PhD world – where I spend 90% of my time – are not racist,** or at least not openly so. I could be wrong, but I would guess academia is one of the friendliest environments for people of all types of racially diverse backgrounds. Academia is basically a meritocracy, sprinkled with affirmative-action type of policies. So it’s not like I have many chances to say, “Hey! That racist joke isn’t funny!” And University policies seem to be rather friendly toward people of diverse backgrounds, especially those who are traditionally underrepresented in certain fields (like STEM). So besides aggressively posting anti-racist status updates on social media – which only other anti-racists will read – what should I do? I’m not trying to absolve myself of responsibility – I’m genuinely curious.


*I didn’t vote for Hillary, either! But I did vote! Write in, baby!

**In this context, I mean racist as in “gee golly, wish we could go back to the good ol’ days of Jim Crow!” Everyone has nasty prejudices and snobberies and divisiveness in their own hearts, which I truly believe only Jesus can heal. But on a political level, I (maybe naively) think you can advocate for change that leads to equality and opportunity for people of all races to flourish — even before every single person’s heart is 100% pure.


You can not speak good and still be right

I recently watched the Jimmy Kimmel interview with George W. Bush, and I recalled how everyone used to talk about what an idiot George W. was when he was president. That always annoyed me – I mean, the dude went to Yale and he became President of the free world – obviously there’s something going on up in there. Plus, anyone with that good of a sense of humor has to be intelligent in at least some capacity. Yet because he’s not very articulate, a lot of people consider him to be stupid.*

Confession: I have a celebrity crush on the W. JUDGE ALL YOU WANT! (pic from youtube screenshot – hopefully no copyright issues there??)

Now, put this together with people’s snobbery in general towards Southerners, &/or people who don’t use perfect grammar. If you see a fb argument and someone accidentally uses “their” instead of “there,” the argument is over. That person is destroyed and must fall on their cyber sword. I’m not hating against using standard English or talkin’ fancy, especially in writing (some people’s writing is so bad that I seriously don’t even know what they’re trying to say). But there are two points here I want to make –

1) You can be a terrible speaker/writer and still be really smart, and you can be a great speaker/writer and still be fairly basic.

I don’t think this needs much explanation, but if I stuttered through my dissertation defense – wouldn’t the quality of my dissertation itself be the same? Yet if an 8 year old child memorized my presentation, took acting and diction lessons, and rattled through my defense presentation perfectly… would that kid be smarter than me, or have a superior understanding of my dissertation topic? Nope-ity dope-ity.

Okay, second point is kinda sorta loosely related to the first.

2) Using good logic or extrapolating from known data doesn’t guarantee you will come to the right conclusions, and being illogical and subjective doesn’t necessarily make you come to the wrong conclusions.

Example 1: “It’s okay for people to force inferior beings to work for you without pay. Black people are inferior to white people. Therefore, it’s okay to force black people to work for white people without pay.”

I intentionally chose something super inflammatory to make the point that the argument above isn’t illogical, but it has a very flawed assumption – that black people are inferior to white people. At the time, though, there was “science” that people used to “prove” that white people were superior. If you argued against them at that time, they could have accused you of ignoring the data, or being anti-science, or being illogical. And maybe they weren’t even trying to be sinister — I’m sure there were people who believed in the scientific racism at the time and thought it was high quality science. And truly, if you accept their interpretation of the data, then the statement above is logical. But as (I hope!) you would agree, it was an evil, wrong conclusion.

Example 2: “It’s not okay to use black people to do work for you without pay, because I like black people and I just don’t feel right about forcing them to work for free.”

The example 2 argument is not a good argument. It draws on subjective feels and intuition. At one time, it would have gone against the “scientific data.” But as (I hope!) you would agree, it’s the right conclusion.

So my point: this is not an “anti-science” post. I love science. I am a scientist. But at the same time, I just want to caution academics and other members of the intelligentsia to not be intellectually arrogant, and to at least consider the possibility that the intuitive, subjective conclusions that the uneducated masses from Podunkville have made could be right. The same applies if you’re an outsider evaluating the merit of different choices or options. It’s important to use logic and good data to draw conclusions and make assumptions, for sure. But 1) think critically about all the assumptions behind the logic and 2) at least consider the possibility that the data is incomplete, limited, or even just wrong.

Finally, also consider what incentive people have to either agree or disagree with the data. For example, if someone presented data that strongly implicated that my Dad was an ax murderer, I would be *WAY* more critical of that data than some random person in Moscow would be. And being more critical of that data wouldn’t make me less intelligent, it would just mean my life history gives me a very different threshold for convincing. In fact, rando in Moscow would probably be less qualified than me to look at the data, because this person has no personal experience with my Dad. Yes? *anyway*

Main point: don’t be a snooty-pants. ❤


*all politics aside – I’m not talking about stupid policies. That’s a whole ‘nother can o’ worms.

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