Dear Morgan Freeman-loving Atheists: Race Blindness Doesn’t Solve the Race Problem

This post sat in my Drafts folder for more than a year ‘cuz I’m a chicken who generally prefers to avoid spending time in internet debates on contentious topics. But now I’m trying to clean up my Drafts folders, so here it is.

A couple days before Martin Luther King Jr. day, a skeptic friend of mine posted this on Facebook:

Morgan Freeman solves the race problem.

You can watch the short video here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3cGfrExozQ

The video was popular on Reddit and was reposted often on Facebook for MLK Day, but I didn’t know that yet. I generally love Morgan Freeman, but he missed it on this one, so I made a quick comment on the thread on Saturday night. (Also, pretentious video title! Like no one’s had that idea before… *sigh*)

I opened my e-mail on Sunday morning to find a significant number of replies. So I ended up responding to a few comments (apparently by white guys) crankily before my brain even had the benefit of morning caffeine. Hey, my previous points were described by one commenter as “whiny liberal bullshit”! Here’s the conversation:

JL: he is the man!

DD: I so want to by that man a beer

JK: I don’t think I can agree with the premise that the way to stop racism is to “stop talking about it.” I understand that he feels being singled out for the purposes of diversity is still be singled out, which is bad. In an ideal world, the institutional racism that made educational efforts like black history month necessary would not exist. But as far as I know, we don’t live in that world.

Me:  I wish I could agree with Freeman here. But we don’t solve institutional racism and racial bias by pretending it doesn’t exist; we don’t fix sexism in the skeptic community by pretending it doesn’t exist; we don’t overcome bias and bigotry in the world we have by pretending there is no bias and bigotry.

JL: well fix it by teaching the truth an we are all human!

JH: Such a great man, such a simplistic view unfortunately. It is a shame it isn’t this simple, hopefully one day it will be

PT: Great video. I wish this were kept more in mind.

No one who harps on “institutional racism” has ever made, or will ever make, progress on race relations. It’s a call for boring whininess and self-defeatism that will never get us anywhere.

Case in point is Debbie on this thread. Apparently she believes that there is institutional sexism in the skeptical community, and she needs to bring it up in a thread on race in America. Seems that there’s no end to whiny liberal bullshit.

But I know, I’m “privileged” – a bullshit term that’s just as dumb as “institutional racism.”

Btw – is the Center for Inquiry now just a silly left-wing echo chamber?

DH: I remember seeing this on 60 minutes and saying “That’s effing Brilliant!”

Yes, there’s racism, and there always will be, to some extent, because humans are tribal creatures. But this constant harping on Race Race Race creates problems where there were none. Too many people are super sensitized, always looking and listening for any little thing they can interpret as racism. People like Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton pad their wallets while teaching generations of blacks that everything bad in the world is all whitey’s fault, and The Man is keeping them down. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

It’s one thing to say “I’m not going to take any crap.” It’s quite another to spend your life looking for crap not to take.

Me: Whoa whoa whoa, PT!

- “No one who harps on ‘institutional racism” has ever made…progress on race relations.” Harps is a fantastically loaded term. Also, I disagree with you. People who “harp on” it call into question things like racial profiling by police officers in NYC, who pull over people of color much more often than whites. Cops have also responded with amazingly unnecessary levels of violence when they assume that people of color have weapons, which has led to jaw-dropping shooting deaths by the police. That’s bias and institutional racism. The people taking about it (“harping on” it), calling the systems into question, and demanding change are helping it change.

- “boring whininess” is a phrase that I’m tempted to dismiss as likely coming from a place of privilege. Perhaps you don’t see a need for change because you aren’t confronted personally by some of the problems of institutional racism? Just speculation on my part. I’m not sure why else you’d use the phrase. If someone kept talking about the lack of wheelchair ramps in my town, but I didn’t ever need to use them and didn’t give a hoot, I might dismiss their perspective as “boring whininess” too. Well, actually, I wouldn’t, because I’m not a jerk.

- I never used the phrase “institutional sexism” re: skeptical community. I said “sexism.” And yes, I think there’s sexism in the skeptical community. A good number of women have reported being the recipients of sexist behavior. Are they *mistaken* and incorrect? Are you dismissing their experiences as irrelevant? Or perhaps their numbers are irrelevant to you?

- I am a liberal. I like liberty. I like equal rights. I want things to change for the better. It’s not a dirty word to me.

- The discussion was about race, so I brought up another example of biased behavior, then “zoomed out” to the broader categories. That’s not an unusual way to comment on a topic; in fact, I think it’s very effective. To me, that’s not hijacking the conversation by bringing up another example of bias that a lot of people who are DC’s FB friends would be familiar with. I think perhaps you are sensitive to the topic of sexism in the skeptical community.

- “Privileged” is not a bullshit term. Your saying that it is leads me to believe that you don’t know what it means but think you do.

- It’s funny that you’d accuse CFI of being a left-wing echo chamber. Where have you been? :) Many skeptics and atheists in the last couple of weeks have accused CFI of being sexist and run by an “old guard” of white men who don’t care about feminism or social issues. Look at the posts on Pharyngula and Almost Diamonds about Ben Radford’s views, for example (from around Jan. 2–3). In fact, people were threatening to withhold support from CFI for hosting a “sexist” “MRA”. It can’t be both—CFI can’t be both a liberal echo chamber and a conservative out-of-touch sexist org. Geez. So I’ll say this: no, it’s clearly not a “silly left-wing echo chamber.” There are lots of people with lots of different views. You may be ignorant of that.

DC: I am just a silly white guy, who has never been on the ‘winning’ side in politics. ;)

Strangely, there were no further responses. I shared the thread on Facebook and got some positive head-swelling responses (and 21 Likes!):

DA: I propose that we start saying “You got Goddarded!” when people are wrong and are told really clearly and reasonably what the truth is. And they don’t respond because the counter-argument was so good.

SK: and when we reflect on the incident later, among peers, we can say, ” ’twas a Goddarding what subdued the uprising…”

KW: Is it possible to digitize Debbie? I could use a Debbie for my facebook debates.

TM: That would be an interesting idea for an application – and could be a great way to share the Goddarding meme with the world.

AC: ‎@KW, if you’re debating via FB chat, just type in [[debgod42]]! :P

Validation, weeeee! Sometimes it’s nice to have friends who agree with my occasional outbursts of “whiny liberal bullshit.”

This is not to say that I don’t think race and discrimination are tricky multifaceted issues. I do. But I get massively frustrated by the whole “If we ignore it, the problem is solved” perspective. Give me a break! We’re people. We don’t live in that kind of dreamland. We skeptics and non-believers sometimes describe ourselves as members of the “reality-based” community. Well, reality and history show us that when good people practice race-blindness, it  doesn’t decrease racism; it just makes it impossible to see, difficult to quantify, and impossible to change.

4 Responses to Dear Morgan Freeman-loving Atheists: Race Blindness Doesn’t Solve the Race Problem

  1. EVERY time I bring up anything about race, someone plays this video as if Morgan Freeman saying it doesn’t make it ignorant.

  2. Thank you so much for this wonderful post, Debbie. You’re a brilliant writer, and I look forward to reading your future posts. I just subscribed to the RSS feed.

  3. I love you. That is all. Thanks for this :)

  4. ‘Tis my goal in life to be able to argue this reasonably and rationally. You just dismantled him from the inside out in the spirit of Harris or Hitch…very impressive.