TERMS, PT. 4: They'd Better Convince Me That There Is a Problem

The other day I posted online that I was 7x's more likely to be arrested on any given day than my white counterparts. A guy from my church responded saying that he doesn't know how I came to that conclusion since I'm a law-abiding citizen. I explained that the rate of incarceration of black people has little to do with crime rates in the black community and everything to do with the fact that black people are policed differently. His response was that he "disagreed" with my "belief" that black people are treated differently, and that I was "arrogant" for not being open to different "opinions" on the matter. He expected me to defend what he called my "argument" that racism is a major factor in the American criminal justice system.

That language of belief, opinions, an agreement, all point to the terms and conditions we're considering today: it's the idea that until they are convinced that racism is a problem, then the problem of racism doesn't exist. Therefore, black people have to "prove" that racism is a real thing that is hurting people today. There are a couple of problems with those terms.

1) Bringing Beliefs to a Knowledge Fight

We need to keep distinctions clear between knowledge and belief. When we're talking about racism, we're talking about well-documented patterns of social control and behaviors that can be observed in the present and traced throughout American history. Black Americans don't just believe in racism; We experience it. Therefore, we know it. People do not have the power or the right reduce our knowledge to just another opinion just because they don't share that knowledge.

People need to rid themselves of the idea that something isn't real just because they haven't heard it or experienced it before. They should accept that reality does not need their permission or blessing to be. Their refusal to give something credence has no bearing on whether or not it is actually true. They can't just erase the violence and obstacles that black people face by disbelieving them.

2) Giving the Unconvinced Too Much Power

There seems to be an underlying misconception that we need to convince the majority of people to join a movement for racial justice in order for us to see social change. Since black people need as many people as possible, many assume, we must be committed to converting every racism denier into an anti-racist activist.

Social scientists, however, suggest that we may not need as many people as one may expect in order to see social change. Some social scientists suggest that as little as three-and-a-half percent of the population can change a society. This fact alone relieves me of the burden of thinking that I have to turn every race denier into an activist. The truth is that every person is not needed in order for us to see social change. This information also breaks the illusion that the unconvinced are somehow the gatekeepers to racial justice--that we can only progress as far as they are willing to go. The truth is, however, that a committed few can do enormous good, whether the nay-sayers want to participate or not. So then, I refuse to dignify the ignorance that denies racism as a real societal obstacle with notions of power. I refuse to dignify that kind of ignorance with fear that it will prevent social change. I refuse to obsess over the opposition; and I choose to focus on my allies.

Since we only need a small percentage of committed individuals, then it makes more sense to pull from those who are already likely to join the cause. Many people seem to think of activism in a binary: you are either for or against movements toward racial justice. Activist Daniel Hunter, however, suggests that allies exist on a spectrum from active supporters to active opposers, with a range of dispositions in between. There are people who are passively in support of social change, neutral, and passively against. Those who want to do something about the injustices around them would be better off spending their energy beginning with those who already agree with them, and then working their way across the spectrum as far they have the energy to do so. There are some who feel drawn to the active opposers. More power to them. At the same time though, we would do well to remember that the world can change without the active opposers.

So I reject the terms and conditions that black people need to go about evangelizing the entire world to become anti-racists. Whoever wants to build a just society, come and work with us. The haters can watch.



[1] Daniel Hunter's Organizing Guide for Social Change: http://bit.ly/1BnH1D1

[2] How Many People Can Change Our Society? http://bit.ly/2sEYfPg

[3] A Challenge to Racism Deniers: http://bit.ly/2ebXfvN

[4] A Very Interesting Pragmatic Article on Why We Should Stop Trying to Convince People to Wake Up: http://thebea.st/2suKZfv