I Can Breathe

I see posts on Facebook from white friends and acquaintances, querulously complaining that everywhere they look they see signs proclaiming, “Black Lives Matter.” They are tired of it. “Why don’t ‘All Lives Matter’?” they ask. Jesus does not make distinctions between people and neither should we, they say. They are color blind; they have never understood why racism exists. They are not racist.

This is a fraught time, but it’s also an historic moment. I am glad I lived to see this time. I was twelve when the Civil Rights Act was passed. Even at that young age it was hard to understand why it had taken so long. But I could go about my pre-teen business, unconcerned about my safety around cops. Officer Angel in St. Helena was a genuine jerk, even on his good days, but it never crossed my mind that my life was in danger while he tailed me on my motorcycle down the Silverado Trail some years later.

I could breathe.

Should I and millions of other white people take to the streets carrying signs that say, “White Lives Matter”? It would be absurd, pointless. My whiteness is the standard against which every other human color is measured and found wanting. I don’t have to try twice as hard to be taken half as seriously as a person of color. I am not overlooked solely because of the color of my skin. I don’t have to justify my very existence.

I can breathe.

In order for a human life to “matter” to others, those others must regard that life as human. This is fundamental to the survival of communities and to the survival of humanity itself. It is so fundamental that when confronted with a sign that reads “Black Lives Matter,” you think, well of course, that’s obvious. And what we’re thinking is that all (human) lives matter; blacks are human; therefore, black lives matter. Simple logic. So why does it have to be said? Because, bluntly put, the unspoken assumption is that black lives still don’t matter as much as white lives matter.

So if the obvious has to be stated — “Black Lives Matter” — you know we are in a seriously schizophrenic state of being in this country. If the house is on fire, the alarm must be sounded. This house is on fire. Black people have been sounding the alarm for four hundred years. But we have been looking away and raising such a din that their voices have been ignored. And it’s hard to make your voice heard above the din when you can’t breathe.

So now we are all in this moment when the loudest voice that finally cut through the din was from a man gasping his life out under the knee of a smugly brutal cop who knew there would be no consequences to his actions because he operated on the assumption that black lives don’t matter. It’s a tragedy that the blindingly obvious must be stated over and over — “Black Lives Matter” — but until we truly believe that, and it becomes a fundamental assumption for us, we must be reminded over and over.

We are on a threshold, what we call a liminal moment. Are we going to slam the door and retreat back into the room we’ve lived in for centuries? Are we going to stand dithering on the threshold? Or will we go forward into the wide world?

There will be a time when a kid in the seventh grade does a report on the protests of 2020 for her social studies class and comes across photos of people carrying signs that say, “Black Lives Matter.” She will be puzzled. “Isn’t that obvious?” she’ll ask. Well, it is now, will be the answer. But it took a lot of people of all kinds, carrying signs, raising a shout, and making a lot of changes, before a lot of other people finally said, “Well, of course.”

So, my fellow white people: Take a deep breath. You know you can. You’ve always been able to breathe.

Barry Casey taught religion, philosophy, ethics, and communications for 37 years at universities in Maryland and Washington, DC. He is now retired and writing in Burtonsville, Maryland. More of the author’s writing can be found on his blog, Dante’s Woods. Email him at [email protected]. His first book, Wandering, Not Lost: Essays on Faith, Doubt, and Mystery, is now available.

Photo by James Eades on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10544
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I considered for a moment not to reply and ignore, but then I feel that if the “Adults in the room” do nothing, then children end up running around taking over colleges like Evergreen, and smashing windows and shooting each other to death, or playing anarchists while declaring separatist zones, while hypocritically subsisting on the very system that manufactures the food and guns they are parading with… All while certain genuflecting anti-racists justify their behavior by ignorantly pointing fingers to Colonial America as though we don’t have viable and plentiful examples of American immigrants who arrived here with nothing, and graduated to some position of middle-class wealth in a span of one or two generations… wile not being white.

There’s so much incoherence in this short paragraph that it alone rang all sorts of “wait a minute” bells, which I guess pass the editorial logic simply because anti-racism is the replacement for Christian religion these days, as many Christians proudly cast off that oppression of Biblical morality and exchange it for their virtue-signalling genuflection.

I’m sure that the author has good will in all of this, but ignorance of global history of all sorts of oppression gets one in trouble when one decides to contextualize “All lives matter” in personal lack of oppression experience, while rather condescendingly attribute that to the magical quality of white skin. I don’t understand how the irony of this could escape someone with high academic credentials. How can one doesn’t see that crediting skin color with lack of oppression and relatively easy life sets one up as a superior human in this context!!!

Might as well record a line and plop in the video below, which author may actually think is a great idea:

Can we please stop all of the virtue-signalling nonsense that tends to only exist to proudly wear “I’m not a racist” badge, while paradoxically claiming to be a racist in some vacuous context of hidden bias and “white privilege system”? The incoherence of this message is astounding to any person who cares to think about this for a minute. So, you take responsibility for being a racist. Great. I’m not a racist. Why you as a racist should be allowed space for articles and prominent sponsored videos is beyond me, as you try to very incoherently convince me that I am a racist in an attempt for some collectivist approach to guilt without any context?

But, when you begin to inject context … you will actually notice some nuances like…:

So… does his white life matter? This guy is just a glitch in the racist system then, eh? You don’t care to parade about him… because he had a comfortable life, and all of a sudden he is dead.

So, please do me a favor and stop speaking for “white people” as thought the color of your skin viably projects generic and consolidated experience of the lack of “white suffering”. For goodness sakes! This is actually so insulting that It’s amazing how this kind of narrative gets a pass in Spectrum editorial. I’m all for expression of free opinion, but I actually find this projection extremely dangerous in light of what’s going on… simply because it ends up with justification of criminal behavior that gets excused quite openly.

Imagine for a second someone crawl out of their academic obscurity and write an opinion on “Well, I’m Jewish, and based on what’s happening in Palestine… I acknowledge that Jews have to work twice as hard to taken half as seriously as they hold privileged position in society which leaves them wanting. So, all of those suicide bombings and using women and children as human shields… That’s all on Jews like me”.

Would you publish it? I hope not.

Is racism all of a sudden becomes ok if it’s in context of self-flagelating acknowledgement to the likes of …

This is absurdly comical if it wasn’t so severely tragic. We have someone openly waves "my skin color allows me dominant superiority " flag as a part of the necessary precondition for ideological position that one adopts… and that’s viewed as virtuous!!!

Not only that, but it becomes a major pre-requisite of this anti-racist religion in which one has to acknowledge the original sin or racism in oneself, and then go on making disciples of all white people, exposing the “magical properties” of their skin to cause societal harm.

Barry, how can your subjective perception of “whiteness” be viably projected, let’s say, on the experience of the Ukrainian immigrant such as I, who got here alone in the late 90s, and was thrown into a position of disadvantage to those who were living in Opa-Locka in Miami? My whiteness didn’t magically bust all of the doors open for me as a lone young immigrant. No loans. I couldn’t even work outside of school campus. So, nothing except for scraping and clawing. Working nights to pay for school in the morning. Living in a poor neighborhood, sharing a room with 7 other black guys during that time. Having to claw my way through sports. And guess what, still having a history of oppression in the ancestral past. Getting wrongfully arrested, with police thinking that I broke into the house I was staying in… as I was terrified and fearing for my life as they have gun pointed at me and yelling orders when I could barely speak English then.

Am I white by your estimates? What am I? Am I a glitch in American system of racism that somehow didn’t trigger “white privilege” in my personal experience? I thought I supposed to live the life of comfort with everything handed to me on a silver platter as opposed to grinding most of my life? Are coal miners in West Virginia white? How about educated and successful black men living in OC?

Should your shallow approach to statistical disparity override experiences of people like myself, and plenty of other people with light skin that didn’t simply got a pass in American society… that arguably had much less opportunity and privilege than some of the black people in the very same communities they lived in.

Take George Floyd. The guy had every opportunity. He had a privilege that 99% of Americans don’t get to enjoy - a free ride to college. He drops out of the college that was given to him for free with one year left to finish his degree. He pursues a career in rap, and get mixed up in gangs and drug trade. Becomes a career criminal instead. Serves time for robbing a pregnant woman at a gun pointed to her unborn child. Acts in porn. Get his system full of amphetamines and fentanyl as he endangers the lives of other people as he drives under the influence. Uses forged money to buy stuff. Get cops called on him, at which point they detect that he is behaving as though he is under influence. He begins complaining that he can’t breather WHEN they place him in the back of police cruiser. He freaks out and complaints that he can’t breathe as he resists getting inside. At which point the officers call the ambulance while they attempt to restrain him, with negligent behavior… which has him killed. It would be naive to thing that the amount of fentanyl in his system that could kill first time used had no impact on how this situation played out.

At which point in time are we going to say… yeah, the way this guy was living his life in a way in which eventually would cost him his life? Does his life matter if he died of overdose, or gang warfare? Does the lives of other people he and his gang mowed through matter?

Are you really going to make this case, and many cases like it to be representative of “black experience”? Really? Are all of black people career criminals? Are you really going to go as far as absolving criminal behavior in order to score points in debate about systemic racism?

“All lives matter” should be a reminder for you that your narrow and reductionist models of “white” and “black” experiences should have much more nuance than you allowing these. You are not helping people by genuflection and excuses for criminal behavior. Poverty is never an excuse to rob people at gun point and shoot people in your neighborhoods because someone dared to look someone in the eyes for too long. Poverty is never an excuse for throwing civility context out of the window. Poverty is fixable. Terrible culture and upbringing will always have a river running through it.

If you find this critique to be harsh, I apologize, but, I spent my late teens in poor black neighborhood of the most dangerous kind. Your whiteness has very little to do with the cyclical problems that people who live there are running into.

I’ll end by quoting John McWhorter who correctly pointed out that some people are so “woke” that they no longer care about responding to sound of an alarm.

Beep, beep, beep. Time to wake up, my friend.

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Barry, Well written and spot on, thank you so much for your usual candor and frankness. This level of thinking is one which should be in our churches, schools and in the hearts of us all.

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Thanks again Barry for a great essay full of truth and reality. You put truth and facts in words in such a beautiful way. I can feel that you are a sensitive person who can respond emotionally to a tragic condition that is present in our society.

However, be prepared for negative reactions; some people still believe that black lives don’t matter, and they see no problem with keeping their knee on a black neck until the black voice is forever silenced. Well ,at least one of them (George Floyd’s assassin) is going to prison for a long time (hopefully). I wish all those white supremacists could make him company!!!

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Well, you’ve written a manifesto. Thanks for taking the time and effort. I never expected to take up or answer all the questions and nuances in black/white relations. It was 600+ words asking white people to do the most basic thing here–regard black people as human beings. I hoped that my white readers would take black people as seriously as each of us takes him/herself. That’s pretty much what I was trying to accomplish. Your experience, coming here as an immigrant, is admirable. You’ve got a lot of courage and initiative. Maybe you got just a taste of how people who are different in American culture (skin color, language, religion, culture) from the “norm” are treated. You thought it was unfair and even terrifying–and you’re white. Now magnify that by 400 years of systemic racism coupled with individual prejudice and complicated by indifference to the suffering of others, and you’ve got just a sliver of what black Americans are up against every day. You’ve obviously thought about this and have a position. My purpose was to jolt readers just a bit as to how black Americans find it difficult to breathe freely. I don’t assume to speak for the whole white race anymore than I assume all black Americans will agree with me. You take exception to my views, I take exception to some of yours. I’m happy to leave it at that, while saying that I appreciated reading your piece.

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Thanks, George. I’ve had the privilege of having thousands of students of all nationalities, races, religions, and culture in my classes over the years. To say that they taught me would be an understatement. I can only relate to these issues from personal experience. My studies in intercultural communication, sociology, anthropology, literature, and religions broadened my views to be sure, but it’s the act of trying to put myself in another person’s perspective that is so difficult—really, the “work of a lifetime,” to borrow a phrase from EGW! What makes it real and joyful are the friendships I’ve been blessed with over the years with my students and peers at the colleges and universities where I’ve taught. I don’t for a minute presume to fully know what people of color in this country go through every day. I just know that I don’t want to contribute to their pain.

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Thank you, David! We’ve all work to do on these things.

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Well, no. I’ve written an objection with many questions about a position that attempts to consolidate “white experience” in America, while doing the same with “black experience”.

Why would you think that’s not the case? Was it the case at any point in your life that you haven’t taken anyone seriously because they are black? If not, then why would you project that on a skin tone? If yes, then why would you project that on skin tone?

It seems like you haven’t really read beyond my immigrant experience. I know my post was extra long, but there are so many assumptions that fill your statements that it takes a book to deconstruct properly.

  1. No, I didn’t think police experience was unfair. Police is called to prevent crime, and they can’t get inside my mind to know whether I lived there or broke in. Likewise, mere claims that I lived there could be conflicting with reports of random white guy with a heavy accent tripping an alarm in black neighborhood. Police has to assume the worst and then work backwards. I didn’t think I was treated unfairly, and many black people, if they don’t resist arrest and understand the job of police… wouldn’t suffer as much.

  2. You got this wrong actually. In a broader scope of Jewish history, black people got a taste of what Jewish people experienced for several millennia. No, it’s not an oppression Olympics… but it there were one, Jews would likely take gold :slight_smile: But, seriously though, why would you make black experience to be the yardstick of all oppression in the world, especially in the modern context of something like Mauritania, where there are slaves to this very day?

Again, for someone of your credentials, it’s continually puzzling to me that you keep making that particular comparison and claim.

Every day :slight_smile: This is where I can’t take you seriously. First of all, if we control for:

  1. Police encounters in poor black neighborhoods.
  2. Police encounters with people who match suspect’s description
  3. Police encounters with people who actually were in a process or were caught after the fact of committing crime
  4. Police encounters of people for who they had a warrant from a judge to take down after demonstrable evidence of criminal activity

How many of those “Black Americans” who are up against these things “every day” would you expect to be left in your statistical observation? My guess would be not too many. Majority of black Americans are law-abiding citizens who don’t rob people and stores, don’t participate in gang shootouts, and don’t burglarize their communities.

So, why would you think that there’s no viable differentiation between police encounters with black criminals, and police encounters with ordinary citizens, and standard police procedure which isn’t avoidable at a certain point of time?

Why would you conflate criminal encounters with police, and “black Americans” everyday life? You don’t see that as problematic at all?

What bothers me about all of this isn’t your initiative, and good will… which I admire. You seem to be a very kind person. You seem to be the kind of person who is bothered by the problems that these communities are going through. All of this is very admirable.

Unfortunately, road to hell can be paved with good intentions, especially in context of certain ignorance that’s killing people with faux version of love and care.

Again, which black Americans are you talking about? I know a few, and they are breathing much better than some of the people who I know in rural Southern Ohio, and still can barely afford their trailer rent.

We can make an adequate economic case in which race becomes a statistical anomaly that shouldn’t be there, but attributing these effects to racism without taking into account cultural differences, and lifestyle choices… is not a legitimate conversation that cares about the truth of the matter beyond signaling certain distaste for economic disparity… but you have no viable argument when it comes to policing of criminals.

Out of 1200 people shot or killed by police yearly, 250 of them are black, 17 are unarmed, and out of those almost every resisted arrest. Almost every one was either a suspect in crime, or in a process of committing crime. Many are career criminals. They are still human, but I wouldn’t take them more seriously than I would a black person who was disciplined and worked to get ahead… anymore than I would take a white criminal more seriously than I would the very same black person who has much more of my respect.

So, again, you are structuring a monolith in which you are unwilling to look closely as to why we have police encounters of that nature, even though the arrests in virtually any violent category have been on steady decline since 2005, in some cases dropping as much as 50%.

Do you seriously believe that police is racist in the US? Do you seriously believe that what you see as marginal examples of police negligence against criminals… is not a case of marginal cases of police mishandling criminals on either side of racial equation?

All I can say is that there’s an article on this very discord board written by the first black woman who is VP of GC, even though I disagree with her on this issue… it’s cringy to me to scroll down and see 90 views and 3 responses. Perhaps there are various reasons people may not find the article as appealing as the one about queer teen announcing her leaving the church, but I would hope that if you are asking people to take the plight of black people seriously… how about channel them to support the only black woman VP in the history of Adventist church?

https://conversation.spectrummagazine.org/t/deeds-not-only-words

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And it would take a book to answer them. We can go back and forth about each other’s assumptions, but it wouldn’t serve any purpose here. I have questions about your assumptions too, and then you’d question my assumptions about your assumptions. I’ve read your arguments, I will think about them, but I’m under no constraint to answer them.

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That’s a large part of my point. There is plenty of discussion in which there are convenient statistical disparity outlined. There are zero articles on this site that dive and dissect the problematic nature of normalization of crime in these communities, with police being scapegoated for attempting to manage it however imperfectly and with plentiful overreaction and negligence.

I don’t know about you, but I hardly think that removing police from the equation resolves these issues.

But then what’s left? We have to discuss why people commit more crime in general? Is it because they are poor? Well, no. Could it also be that they are poor because they have a mindset and a culture of a criminal? Could it be different in different circumstances , and we can’t viably boil these issues down to singular causes?

I tend to think the latter is true. So, while you are attempting to have black people taken more seriously… for which cudos to you… genuflection to criminal behavior will not resolve problems in these neighborhoods.

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One last rejoinder. In the quote above we come to your real issue—black criminal behavior. And all the attendant problems with police brutality, etc. My post was not about black criminal behavior. It was based on countless conversations with black students, black teaching colleagues, black pastors, black friends. None of them were/are criminals, but every one of them have had experiences of being profiled by police, stopped while driving black, being followed in shops, being regarded with suspicion in crowds and in public places, occasionally not being served in fast food places, having to put up with racist jokes in their presence, etc. Was I talking about defunding police? Did I raise the issue of removing police from the equation? Not at all. Those are other issues. That’s an assumption you’ve made. As a middle-class white male I am not subject to the sorts of encounters I’ve described above. But plenty of my black friends are, many of them professional people with advanced degrees, who own homes and work hard. And they all experience discrimination as a part of their lives. That kind of systemic racism is built into the American experience (note that I’m limiting my remarks and my essay to the American culture). That’s what they report to me.

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Thank you for this. The church has been too long silent on this whole thing and we should be in 100% support of Black Lives Matter, if for no other reason than that it is right to stand up for those who are oppressed. I also am continually annoyed by having the same conversation over and over with fellow church members about how “white privilege” doesn’t exist, structural racism is a thing of the past, and blacks just need to start putting in the same effort whites do to improve themselves. I am not here to debate that, as I am so tired of it, but I did want to add a quote from a book I am currently reading that I believe places even more responsibility on the church, and I know the SDA church has long prided itself on being racially conscious and having been on the side of abolition in the 19th century. Yes, we did speak up more than some churches, but I wish we had been more like the Quakers with their full on resistance to slavery. I do not think that the little we did in the 19th century absolves us of the more general complicity the church developed later over white supremacy, a white supremacy that survives to this day.

Not only did the church not stand firmly against Jim Crow, it was complicit as we barred black people from white spaces, according to some, out of fear of repercussions from the surrounding community. That is no excuse. The church also stood silently as convict labor swept the country and just re enslaved blacks in a new way, and we remained silent as the war on drugs swept up ever more and more black bodies and placed them in prison cells. I do not want to see the church remain silent as the continuing system of white supremacy struggles to continue asserting itself. It is long past time for us to be anti-racists and fully participate in the dismantling of this evil system. So, the long quote below, which says more eloquently what I am trying to say. May the church heed the call to dismantle this evil system that stems from the original sin of America in establishing chattel slavery on this continent.

The pre–Civil War American economy was dependent upon slavery, and the maintenance of slavery depended upon White acquiescence. How is it, then, that many (if not most) White people consider themselves to be unaffected by any lingering consequences of slavery? How is it that White theologians and ethicists have not taken up this question as the existential conundrum facing White Americans, particularly White Christians?

White supremacy, in all its variations, is an evil ideology that relies upon brute power to enforce and maintain itself. Violence is inherent in the system: in the land theft, slaughter, and forced displacement of Native Americans, and in the kidnapping, enslavement, and lynching of African peoples and their descendants. It was not merely that the system used its structural power to create laws classifying African people as property. It also employed its disciplinary power to brutally enforce those laws. Chains, whips, beatings, rape, cutting off limbs of runaways, threatened and actual separation from family, armed slave patrols and their hunting dogs: the system used all of these mechanisms to terrorize enslaved Africans into submission on a daily basis. This real and threatened violence was in addition to the brutality of the work that enslaved Africans did. But make no mistake: living with quotidian violence did not render it any less evil, either for its Black victims or its White perpetrators. A poignant moment in Katrina Browne’s documentary, Traces of the Trade, demonstrates this point. Descendants of the New England DeWolf family, the largest slave-trading family in US history, Browne and nine of her family members undertake a three-week journey retracing the Triangle Trade from their ancestral Rhode Island hometown to the slave forts in Ghana to a former family sugar plantation in Cuba. After visiting Elmina Castle in Ghana, one of the slave forts where their ancestor James DeWolf may have negotiated for captured Africans, Tom DeWolf says: “We’ve talked when we were in Bristol and when we were in Providence and we’re listening to historians and scholars. We’ve heard people talk about, ‘You know, you’ve got to place it in the context of the times. And this is the way things were done. And this is how, you know, life was.’ And I sit in that dungeon and I say bullshit. It was an evil thing and they knew it was an evil thing and they did it anyway.” Wendell Berry echoes this sentiment in The Hidden Wound when he confesses that chattel slavery was an inherently violent system: “For if there was any kindness in slavery it was dependent on the docility of the slaves; any slave who was unwilling to be a slave broke through the myth of paternalism and benevolence, and brought down on himself the violence inherent in the system.” Berry, moreover, acknowledges that the violence and evil of the system was so readily apparent that those involved in it had to know their own complicity. “In spite of the self-defensive myth of benevolence, it was impossible for the slave owner to secure any limit to the depth or the extent of his complicity; as soon as he found it necessary to deal with the slave as property he was in as deep as he could go.”

The church, unfortunately, was neither an innocent bystander nor a conscientious objector to the horrors of White supremacy. If anything, the church was the prime wielder of the slaveholding economy’s hegemonic power, cultivating and disseminating the theology that undergirded White supremacy. In 1493, the Catholic Church, after all, developed and disseminated the ideology that came to be known as the Doctrine of Discovery, which declared that since all of the earth belonged to God, and by extension to the Pope, any land that was not inhabited by Christians could be discovered, claimed, and exploited by Christian explorers.

Frederick Douglass, moreover, described southern religion as:

a mere covering for the most horrid crimes,—a justifier of the most appalling barbarity,—a sanctifier of the most hateful frauds,—and a dark shelter under, which the darkest, foulest, grossest, and most infernal deeds of slaveholders find the strongest protection. Were I to be again reduced to the chains of slavery, next to that enslavement, I should regard being the slave of a religious master the greatest calamity that could befall me. For of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I have ever found them the meanest and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others.

Thus, as James Cone argued in The Cross and the Lynching Tree, the failure to grapple with White supremacy, including its past and contemporary expressions, is at the heart of the failure of White Christianity. Christian seminaries continue to replicate this failure through their teaching. The idea that “Whites could claim a Christian identity without feeling the need to oppose slavery, segregation, and lynching as a contradiction of the gospel for America” ought to astound modern Christians and send them running back to the drawing board to rethink White theology. But White Christians have not, in large measure, grappled with the ways in which slavery has shaped the identity and cultures of White people in ways that continue to present themselves today. They have not wrestled with the moral injuriousness of slavery.

Walker-Barnes, Chanequa. I Bring the Voices of My People (Prophetic Christianity) . Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

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Thank you, Barry, for another thoughtful and well spoken piece.

I tire rapidly of the false sense of obligation some feel, to use their God given intellect in a manner that disavows the experience of others, for no other reason than it does not match experience of their own.

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Barry, I really appreciate your class in writing your posts.

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Ditto! You said it all John. Those who want will certainly understand your point. But arrogance will certainly prevent some people of getting it.

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You can’t conflate extremes of our societal race issues and claim that these are somehow normal in the lives of individuals. It’s an absurd claim, and facts matter more than feelings and consolidated anecdotes. An no, I’m not saying this because I lack encounters with police in my life, or thinking that there are no racists out there. I’m saying this because realistically there are a lot of people in the US, and I highly doubt that any of your acquaintances have frequent encounters and stops, since there are statistical studies of the actual encounters, and these numbers are in the 20% higher range in context of representative percentage of races. We can discuss where that 20% disparity comes from, but it’s not 200% disparity, and it’s not choking people to death. You are painting incorrect picture of reality, and for an Academic that shouldn’t be a norm. You guys should be held to the higher standards, because you specialize in accuracy of understanding and not spreading hugs, or tea and sympathy. You don’t resolve very difficult societal problems with tea and sympathy. It doesn’t mean that you can’t have both. But, nice doctor means very little when she misdiagnoses a treatment, or gives you a hug instead.

I can guarantee you that almost none of your friends and acquaintances will have an encounter with police today, and virtually none of them will have some racist doing something to them due to racial bias, and that’s not about projecting my experience. That’s a statistical fact that we can actually back up with research of people’s day to day experience that we can verify with a randomized study. I can likewise guarantee you that there are plenty of white people who are bully each other in competitive scope, so swapping a black person into equation doesn’t necessarily constitute racism. People get mad and have a bad day on either side of this equation. People criticize and compete to get ahead. Rushing to judgement can be as problematic as avoiding to make any judgement.

Hence, should know better than framing arguments based on lack of constraints you set up in your research claims. That’s not how we get to the core of the causal factors that result in those problems. Police isn’t the problem. Police is a symptom. Likewise occasional person being an ahole isn’t a problem either in the bigger picture of life.

If you believe that those two factors are more of an issue than… 77%, again… 77% of the black kids born to single mothers… we can’t rationally discuss these issues. Guess how many articles on Spectrum care to address any of these problems this year? I have not read every single one of them, but my guess would be none. Perhaps @webEd could correct me on this issue?

Are you telling us that the above is a scope of “individual choices” that can be viably separated from anything else in societal dynamic today? The reason why I’m writing these long posts, is precisely because there egregious amount of bias that exacerbates conflation of certain lesser problems with extremes on one hand, and then completely ignores the other core issues on the other hand… and I think you know very well why these are ignored. Because discussion of these tends to pass as racism, or blaming the victim.

Perhaps, I should clarify. What I meant by that… is that if you could snap your fingers and fix the police encounters and shift these back into certain representative norm, where equal amount of black and white people get stopped and searched. And equal amount of arrests made, etc, etc… That doesn’t magically fix the issues that perpetuate poverty in black communities. It doesn’t mean that police shouldn’t be trained better and treat people better across the board. It does mean that your focus is misplaced when you paint “I can’t breathe” metaphor as representative.

As a white middle-class male, you are running with the same subjective bias that you derive from being a data-point of 1, and subsequently collecting on-sided reports. I have friends who had very rare police encounter, and some that encounter police quite frequently.

Have you perhaps considered a more rigorous academic approach than assuming that some vague concept like “systemic racism” is responsible for rather complex collection of causal factors that feed into these issues?

So, you think that were you friends live makes no difference, and whether composition of crime in those neighborhoods have nothing to do with those issues either? Does it matter if they speed?

For example, a study in NJ turnpike that initially intended to show that there isn’t a statistical difference in speeding, found that 65% of all speeders were black. But, even in this context I think there’s a lack of nuance, because it’s very difficult to parse reality along black and white lines as some causal factor that doesn’t take into account cultural differences in the region which we can’t project broadly.

The point is that rather ironically doing that … is the core of mechanism by which racism operates. It begins by projecting color on events with assumption that color is somehow responsible for these events. As academic, you should know better. The way to eliminate racism is to focus on broader causal issues and decouple race from certain “victim projection”… and then we can address things like poverty, single motherhood, crime, and other socio-economic disparities that don’t end up in a gutter, or parading on the streets against effects of certain deeply-rooted causes that are ignored.

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And have you considered that I’m not writing an academic treatise and that this is not the arena for that kind of approach? Have you considered that those marching in the streets carrying signs that say, “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe” are better communicators than you are because they understand the power of symbols and metaphors? Some of those marching are people who have dedicated their lives to understanding and studying the root causes of poverty, economic disparity, and racism. Yet they are willing to put themselves on the line to lend their influence to this moment. For all your words and stats and critiques, you simply don’t get it. This is a moment in which attention is focused on the racial injustice black people have suffered for four hundred years. Attention is being paid—finally. There are millions of people who hope this moment can become a turning point in the long struggle for justice. Symbols and metaphors are powerful. They are used to get attention and to move people’s hearts. I don’t claim that what I wrote in that brief essay addresses all the issues or examines all the underlying causes or even corrects for unconscious bias. It wasn’t intended to be an academic treatise and the fact that I was an academic doesn’t mean I can’t write with the hope that my words will move people to think and feel about this issue. So before you come back with another granular examination of every line of my responses to you and of my assumptions, ask yourself if you shouldn’t be using your valuable time and expertise to write a book about these things or an essay for the National Review or even to write a letter to your congressperson. Try to look at the bigger canvas that is unfolding in this country in this moment and the history behind it. Realize that there are many ways to speak about these things. Ask yourself if you have lost the capacity for empathy. Read up on Mr. Gradgrind in Dickens’ “Hard Times.” Or better yet, read James Baldwin or Isaiah or Micah 6:8. Go forth!

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I appreciate you having a discussion, where a great number of people unable to get past assumptions that they are not willing to justify, and simply assume that anyone who challenges their assumption must be a racist.

I’m not claiming that you should be writing Academic paper here, but I do think that as an “adult in the room” you should pass on a more balanced and more informed position that addresses nuances of these issues that extends beyond slogans you read on the protest signs. I hope that wouldn’t be too much to ask. And I really hope that you are not advocating “democratic pluralism” in which we resolve our issues by taking a vote of how everyone is feeling. It doesn’t work too well when we get to French revolutionary context of proverbially hanging people for their “crimes of privilege”.

I have considered why people wear “I can’t breathe” T-shirts, and I’ve concluded that these are not representative of their reality that they are communicating, but rather an assumption that they project on reality of other people, much like you do here. So, if you look around the room in a place of your work, and ask a black person sitting across from you “How many time police violently restrained you?”, they would likely say “Never”. So, when they are putting up that shirt, and when they are painting that sign, they are projecting someone else’s experience on their own hardships and conflicts, which are not at all representative of the policing in this country.

I’ve made a point in the other thread, and we can make a viable point that police isn’t acting on behalf and protecting the interests of the poor, because police are arguably a part of the middle class. So, they are trying to “whip” the poor in line so that they don’t act out too much when it comes to poor overreaction, much like what we’ve see in broken store windows and looting nationwide. But that’s not an argument you are making. You are making an argument in which extremely rare extreme is projected as a commonplace occurrence, and now you are pointing to the bumper stickers and protest signs to validate that view? Really? Have completely abandoned academic integrity for tea and sympathy in this country?

Yes, as someone who has a Jewish background, and familiar with Jewish history, I understand the power of the symbols and metaphors, especially when one structures a divisive narrative in which “leaders” structure a narrative that has no viable causal context other than rage of the mob that’s directed at something as ominous as “unearned privilege”. I am paying attention, especially since you are not engaging in rational arguments, but you are pointing to oppression context which you exemplify in posters and signs.

The reason why I am upset, is because unlike you, I’ve experienced extreme and negative consequences of narratives that intentionally decouple themselves from reality in order to seize the opportunity to make “social change”. And that’s what will inevitably happen when you trade reality and facts for a narrative of consolidated symbols.

I’m not claiming that there isn’t certain scope of remnant racism and the “cigarette smoke” left in the room after these people “moved out”. But, what you seem to be advocating above has little to do with racism, and more to do with a power grab in context of socio-economic class pandering that comes with Marxist narrative script.

So, I guess I should ask you whether you support Marxism as a solution for our socio-economic problems?

I am looking at the bigger canvas that’s unfolding in this country, and I would argue that I’m in better position to judge the eventuality of consequences than you, who merely experienced these issues from a position of “sympathetic outsider”.

My concern is that you either don’t recognize that race is a broader strategic context in present-day politics that gobbled up identitarian position in which race is merely a piece of the puzzle. And I don’t really think that it has to do with racism or sexism, or rights for LGBT movement, as much as it has to do with strategic utilization of these grievances in order to restructure political landscape in which something like kulak pogroms not only become some riot-driven reactions… but something that’s integrated into reworked constitutional scope of a Nation… among many other things, including religious context.

So, what you are doing, seemingly very purposefully… is taking “I can’t breathe” context of police brutality, and translating that as a symbol of socio-economic oppression. And I would argue that it’s a very dangerous thing to do.

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There are a couple issues that I will take with this, especially since you seem to be someone who values science, yet dives into emotional assumptions when it comes oppression narrative painted through certain chunked up and unconstrained statistical pictures:

  1. BLM is an openly-Marxists org. It means that it’s ideologically subversive when it comes to certain traditional norms like family structure and opposition to merit-driven distribution of resources. All of these have larger political implications than BLM, since BLM founders didn’t just came up with Marxist theory on their own time while dodging “white privilege”. If you don’t recognize that as a problem, perhaps we could discuss that. But among some of the basic ones is their view of the Western family and rather open support to dissolving it, and broader view of wealth redistribution which is really rooted in outright rejection or personal property as a concept. So on mere basis of these two positions I would justifiably oppose BLM when it comes to the core ideology that drives that movement.

  2. Whenever I see articles written about black oppression in this space, these tend to start with extremes and project these extremes as though these rare events are representative of modern experience in Black America. This is arguably not the case. If you are black and not committing crime and resisting arrest when you are caught, your chances of being shot or choked on the ground by the police is much less than being killed by someone in your own community, or much less than dying in a car accident. So, if we care about statistical approach to black lives, I’d think that automotive safety should take president. But, as a society we sort of lost the viable frame of reference when it comes to what really kills us, as opposed to what we project as a fear on something extremely unlikely, much like Muslim terrorism in Bush and Obama era. There is a legitimate problem of racial profiling that needs to improve, but it’s not of “I can’t breathe” magnitude, and it’s a subject to frequency bias in which a singular individual experience may compound to a “tendency” when multiple individuals report that experience. In reality, this experience is very rare in life of individuals.

  3. If we are really going to discuss statistical disparity, we should talk about the full spectrum of disparities, including those that may be a major contributing factors to economic divide and cyclical poverty. If we are going to discuss causal factors which are major barriers, why not mention very high illegitimate birth rate which would be a problematic grievance? Why not mention a problem of single-parent homes? If you are going to focus on police context as oppressive, and ignore that 66% of all crimes in the US are committed by group that’s 15% of population, then how are these stats escape articles that merely focus on the emotional impact of watching someone dying on the ground as though this particular context is the only thing we are allowed to focus on in broader range of this conversation? Why not point out that the higher one’s socio-economic status is, the less likely one would ever be brutalized by police no matter what race one is. Likewise, something as obvious as … extensive criminal history in individuals tend to correlate with police brutality during arrests, with comparatively rare exceptions if we consider totality of all of the arrests.

So… merely presenting all of this issues from a perspective of oppression that progressively diminished sunce 60s, and in which we progressed to the point of having black billionaires, presidents and CEOs… doesn’t mean that racism is gone, but is surely indicative that “systemic racism” seems it’s slanted towards oppression of poor, no matter what actual underlying causes for poverty may be if we attempt to deconstruct these.

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You know, I really have nothing to discuss with you. If you think a few black billionaires and a black president mean racism is over and done with, we don’t even have a place from which to start a discussion. And your statistics that you usually share are deeply flawed in most cases, so I have no idea how to even engage with you in a discussion of the actual data. In the past you have recommended books to me I should read, which I did, and found them to be dishonest in their treatment of the topic of racism. I have suggested you read a few books as well, have you?

Racism still exists because our American social system is based on white supremacist principles. I am sorry that you cannot see this. Perhaps you have not read widely enough or engaged yourself in listening enough to what the majority of blacks in general and black scholars in particular have to say, one of which I shared the quote from. Sure, you can find some black scholars that accept your viewpoint, and there are even black supporters of our current president, in spite of his blatant racist statements and actions. What of it? That is hardly relevant.

So, feel free to continue making your arguments if you like, and I will just ignore them. I say this to help you save your time for other things, because I simply don’t have time to engage in this discussion with you from the perspective you are presenting.

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