There has been quite a bit of talk about racism in the news lately, particularly with regards to police interaction. If you’ve spent any time at all on this blog you know I’m a firm believer in police accountability, and as a libertarian I certainly think that we should always be wary of government power and its potential for abuse. That aside, I’m tired of all of the allegations of racism and the crap that keeps popping up. For example, I saw this a few days ago:
It is difficult for me to believe that with a black president, a black attorney general, a black Secretary of Transportation, a black Secretary of Homeland Security, an incredibly diverse Supreme Court, and the most diverse Congress we’ve ever seen that we can take the position Colin Kaepernick did when he said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
Yes. Please tell me how you’re oppressed.
The biggest problem I have with Jon Stewart’s statement and Kaepernick’s belief is that it sets us up to see racism everywhere, even if it isn’t happening. This isn’t rhetoric; it’s actually scientific, and I guarantee it’s something you’ve experienced yourself.
Have you ever learned a new word, heard of a new concept, or seen a specific type of car for the first time? Chances are that, if it made enough of an impact on you, you saw it everywhere over the next few days. You may have watched The Princess Bride for the first time and now everyone around you is using the word “inconceivable;” perhaps you recently read about how the Arctic ice sheet is shrinking while the Antarctic ice shelf is growing, and now all you see are environmental articles everywhere. This is something known as the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.
Our brains are designed to recognize patterns, and upon the introduction of new information (particularly if the information is shocking, mind-blowing, or perspective-altering) we subconsciously hyper-focus on that information. The result is that we see something that is, in all likelihood, relatively rare, but now we see it everywhere. You bought a Prius for the first time, and now you notice the fourteen other Prius’s in your neighborhood; you had a foodgasm at a Thai restaurant for the first time, and now for some reason you see three Thai joints on your commute to work.
The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon is referred to in some psychological circles as “frequency illusion” because the mind distorts what we’re actually seeing into an assumption of much higher frequency than is actually occurring. One of the things I’ve noticed about discussions with people who allege systemic racism is an almost always ever-present statement akin to this: “I had no idea that this was a problem, but ever since X happened (I started dating a black guy, I attended a conference on hidden racism, I watched a documentary) I see it everywhere!” This is the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon playing out in real time.
A friend of mine recently shared an anecdotal story on his Facebook feed about his first encounter with racism. My buddy is black, and tells the story of how he and another black friend were pulled over by a white cop in a white neighborhood when they weren’t doing anything wrong – they’d broken no traffic laws, their car was in good condition, etc. Now, if you believe that all white cops are racist it would be easy to assume this was the reason for the stop. However, the introduction of three other pieces of information may shed light on the subject: both of these guys were teenagers at the time (16-17 years old) and the stop occurred at two in the morning in a neighborhood the car was not registered to when the cop ran the plates. Of course, it’s certainly possible that the white cop pulled over the kids because they were black; however, it’s far more likely that the cop was suspicious of two teenage guys cruising at two in the morning in a neighborhood they didn’t live in.
The above story illustrates another danger of feeding the Stewart/Kaepernick narrative to people: it causes them to attribute any incidental occurrence to a causality of racism, even if other (far more applicable) circumstances are at play. When I was in high school and college I worked part-time as a server at a local restaurant, and one thing I learned very quickly was that two types of people who frequented the restaurant didn’t tip well: Christians, and black people. Now, I’m a Christian so I don’t have any inherent bias towards religious types, but I can tell you that my heart sank every time I saw people pray before a meal because I knew my chances of getting a good tip just went down by 50% or more. The same occurred with black people. Now, perhaps this was a (very consistent) phenomenon that only occurred where I was at the time; perhaps you’re a black Christian who tips very well. However, I can tell you that the experience was so consistent that the restaurant had to implement and enforce a policy that servers couldn’t trade tables based on race or religion. None of the Christians or black servers at the restaurant had any problem serving people from those demographics, but when you’re making $2.13 an hour plus tips you quickly develop a pretty hard bias against people who have consistently demonstrated an unwillingness to tip. If you wanted a good tip, you went for white males who didn’t pray – and that’s not because we were racist or anti-religion.
I’m currently a loss prevention retail manager, and I recently arrested a couple of girls who had pushed out nearly $500 worth of merchandise without paying for it. For the uninitiated, that’s called “shoplifting.” When I got them into my office the very first words out of their mouths were, and I quote, “You only arrested us because we’re black.” No, it had much more to do with the fact that you just stole a bunch of stuff from my store.
Racism exists – I’m not going to argue that. But when we start telling people that the only reason blacks could possible receive anything but deferential treatment from the world is that systemic racism is everywhere we create a false narrative. We unintentionally contribute to racism by creating a divide where one race feels entitled and the other feels threatened, and the more we perpetuate this the deeper the divide grows. Morgan Freeman said it best in this interview clip:
How do we fix racism? Stop making it a constant narrative is a great first step. This has nothing to do with sweeping legitimate issues under the rug, or ignoring what’s really happening. It has everything to do with stopping giving credence to false narratives that are, to a great degree, largely ignorant and honestly, idiotic. For example, Colin Kaepernick’s statement that blacks are oppressed and treated unfairly is undermined significantly by the fact that he’s part of the National Football League, which has a racial makeup that’s 68% black and only 28% white. He’s also sitting on top of a $114 million contract with a $12 million signing bonus – yes, let’s talk about the oppression of systemic racism.
If legitimate racism exists, let’s talk about it. If we assume people are mistreated just because they’re black, that’s a load of crap and we need to call it for what it is.