Why It’s So Hard to Talk About Race

When something is wrong, the best way to make it worse is to not talk about it. This is the unfortunate position we find ourselves in with race. Not only are things wrong, they’re hard to discuss.

What is justice?
When we try to discuss what’s wrong in relation to race, new phrases are invented such as “social justice”. I barely know what justice is, let alone social justice. What’s the difference between something unpleasant versus unjust. If it hails on my car and dents it, is that unjust or unpleasant? If someone bumps into my car and dents it, is that unjust or unpleasant? When I think of injustice, I think of eminent domain. How is it just for a government to take the property of a citizen against their wishes? It would be theft if a citizen did it to another citizen. It’s justified by thinking “the ends justify the means”, and “The needs of the many out-weigh the needs of the few” and “we really need another lane for this road and anyone who doesn’t cooperate is just being stubborn”. To me, that’s unjust, but to most, that’s just part of the package deal of living in a “civilized society”. Similarly, many people think it’s unjust to not hire a person based on the color of their skin. To me, that’s just unpleasant (and financially foolish), but not unjust.

When we talk about race, inevitably fingers fly to blame, like tomatoes thrown at a bad comedian. Then, inevitably, people get defensive. We have to be able to talk about what is happening objectively. Like engineers do when creating a failure analysis. Like couples do when someone forgets to wash the dishes. We need to be able to objectively discuss as a society before we can decide what needs to be done.

Guilt is a poor motivator
Guilt works temporarily at controlling people. One might say “a real man would have not forgotten to do the dishes.” That will get a man to do the dishes once, but then never again. Similarly, “White guilt” might temporarily make people go the extra mile, but I think long term, it will make them resentful.

Intention vs Effect.
What’s more important intention or effect? I think the biggest reason we can’t achieve greater understanding, is because most people aren’t intentionally racist, but the effect is racist.  Most white people don’t view white people as superior. Most TV producers only cast white actors because it’s convenient and what they’re familiar with. The effect is that a black person who watches TV will never see people who look quite like them. I know people who use vile racist slurs, but they don’t actually view own their race as superior. These people don’t have bad intentions, but the effect is damaging.

What do you think? Right? Wrong? Pure poppycock?