This blog is inspired by a discussion I had with an “I’m not racist… but” person recently who tried to discredit BLM. While some of these arguments might appear logical and even convincing at first, they are all fallacious nonsense. Do NOT be tricked by their superficial appearance of being “objective” or “factual.” They are all laced with fallacies and other weaknesses that do not stand up to closer inspection.
Allow me to destroy them, one by one.
Argument 1: “More white people are killed by the police than black people in the US but we only seem to care when it’s a black person”
This is a classic example of a FALLACY OF OMISSION, when someone makes an argument but ignores or does not consider other vital, relevant factors.
The first part of this statement, that more white people are killed by police than black people, may be true in absolute terms, but it omits a vital fact: black people are a minority in the US. When you adjust for demographic size, it becomes clear the degree to which black people are disproportionately affected by police brutality.
Black people make up 12.6% of the US population and yet 22-25% of all people killed by police every year. That’s nearly double what you’d expect in a society where police killings are evenly distributed across all races. In fact, once you adjust for population size, you find that black people are 2.8 times more likely to be killed by police in the USA than white people. This significant difference clearly demonstrates the degree to which race plays a role in determining your likelihood to be a victim of police brutality.
Side note: Police reform is a major focus of Black Lives Matter. Calls to end Qualified Immunity for example have the potential to go a long way to fixing the system for all people wrongly killed by police.
Argument 2: “Ok fine, I accept that black people are disproportionately affected by police brutality. But can we really say this is because of their race? Other factors are at play.”
This argument, by itself, is very much true: other factors ARE at play. Lets take poverty as an example.
Black people are disproportionately affected by poverty. Black Americans make up 12.5% of the United States Population, and yet 21.4% of those living in poverty. This definitely plays a role, the lack of opportunities creating more incentives for crime and therefore, more likelihood of coming into contact with police.
But while this is a key factor and one that should be addressed by economic empowerment initiatives, bringing it and other factors up is often used as a RED-HERRING, meant to distract from the very real role of racial prejudice. Racial prejudice may not be the ONLY factor, but its certainly a KEY factor.
Take the fact that black people are more likely to be stopped RANDOMLY by the police. For example, black people make up 28% of all people stopped by the police in Los Angeles, despite making up only 9% of the city’s population. In San Francisco, where black people make up only 5% of the population and yet 26% of all stops, the discrepancy is even higher.
While poverty may influence your likelihood to come into contact with the police, it shouldn’t affect your likelihood of being stopped randomly. The role of race, the clear defining factor in these situations, is clear.
Beware of people who try and expand on and complicate an issue, not to shed light on other important and relevant issues, but to serve their own purposes of discrediting an argument they don’t agree with/don’t like.
Argument 3: “George Floyd was a criminal. If he’d behaved, he’d have been fine”
Another example of a RED-HERRING. George Floyd may have had a criminal record, but did he deserve to die? Did he deserve to have his neck crushed for 9 minutes straight while not resisting? Unless you’ve answered yes, bringing up his record as a form of justification is irrelevant and merely meant to distract from the key issue.
Furthermore, changing the focus onto the victim’s character in a bid to shift the blame and hence discredit the argument is an example of an AD HOMINEM fallacy, arguably the most common fallacy when it comes to police brutality. How often is a victim cast as a criminal during the immediate media report in a bid to convince you that he deserved to die or at least brought the situation on to himself? Compare this to how white supremacists who commit genuine atrocities are described in the media and the discrepancy becomes ever clearer.
Finally, the second part of this argument, the “if he’d have behaved, he’d have been fine” idea, commits an OMISSION FALLACY by failing to mention the countless incidents when a black person is killed who had no previous record. Breonna Taylor had no record. In fact, she was at home asleep when police barged into her house looking for someone who was already in police custody and shot her to death. Being completely faultless wasn’t enough to save her, so let’s not pretend if black people “just behaved” there’d be no problem.
Argument 4: “Black Lives Matter is not inclusive, what about other ethnic minorities who also suffer racism, are we just going to forget about them?”
This argument creates a FALSE DILEMMA between supporting BLM and supporting all people oppressed by white supremacy, built on a false ZERO SUM assumption. But there is no dichotomy, there is no need to choose.
BLM is not and has never been about ending white supremacy to benefit ONLY black people. While its immediate focus is on black issues, both in combatting racial prejudice against black people and systemic racism, it is part of a larger mission to overthrow white supremacy, which happens to be the exact same force that subjugates other POC as well.
Furthermore, just because BLM exists or gains traction, doesn’t mean other movements catering more specifically to other POC issues can’t exist as well and act in solidarity with BLM. It is not a ZERO SUM game. If one group benefits, we all benefit, because we share the same common enemy: white supremacy.
This statement also has elements of another fallacy, the STRAWMAN ARGUMENT. BLM is not an “only black people are oppressed” or “black people are the only POC that matter” movement. Falsely painting it as such is often done by people who seek to discredit the movement by shedding doubt on its intentions.
Side note: Engendering solidarity between all POC should be a crucial part of any serious anti-racist’s mission. Overthrowing white supremacy in all its forms will require both specific movements catering to specific issues, as well as greater solidarity across all groups dominated by white supremacy.
Argument 5: “Black people complain about being stereotyped as violent but then justify rioting, looting, toppling statues and other violent methods”
This argument is a classic example of the TU QUOQUE fallacy, a fallacious argument that attempts to shed doubt on a position by calling out apparent hypocrisies within it.
But there is no hypocrisy.
There’s a difference between being caricatured as a thug as part of a larger racist ploy to dehumanise you in order to make you easier to under-serve/discriminate against/kill… and generational rage at hundreds of years of oppression.
Its true, some people championing BLM have rioted, looted and used violent methods. But regardless of your own personal views on the morality of these methods, that doesn’t change BLM’s basic argument: that white supremacy is violent and oppresses black people and other non-black POC groups.
Constantly bringing up looting is also yet another example of a RED-HERRING, another tool to distract from the very real, very important demands of the people.
Side note: The hypocrisy of people who argue this is often astounding. Trump, for example, describing the predominantly white people who turned up with guns to protest lockdown measures as “good people” while describing the BLM protestors as “thugs.”
Side note 2: Not all the looters are protestors or BLM activists: see clowns like Jake Paul.
Argument 6: “BLM is leading to dangerous, anti-establishment sentiments, including calls to “de-fund” the police, as well as encouraging people to disrespect authority. These sentiments could lead to the breakdown of society”
Perhaps the three most well-known fallacies are present in this argument. Lets go through them one by one:
- THE STRAWMAN FALLACY: BLM’s goal is not to overthrow the entire system and create a post-apocalyptic world with no order. Its goal is to dismantle white supremacy and to create a fairer, safer, more meritocratic world.
- THE SLIPPERY SLOPE FALLACY: The idea that if we “give in” and give black people basic human rights, the next logical outcome will be the breakdown of society, is a classic example of the slippery slope fallacy.
- FALSE DILEMMA: There isn’t an either/or choice between calling for the end of white supremacy and wanting security. BLM activists want safe, accountable police, who protect, not brutalise, ALL citizens. Painting BLM as a direct opposite to a “safe, stable” society is one of the most pervasive fallacies in the media.
Side note: There is also a deep misunderstanding behind some of the more “radical” calls behind BLM. Let’s take “De-funding the police” as an example. This isn’t about immediately disbanding police. Its about gradually spending more on other projects that lead to a direct decrease in crime, in the process making large police departments less vital. There is a lot of research about how wasteful, inefficient and dangerous police departments are and how other projects, like greater education, economic empowerment and social projects, are more effective. But that’s not the focus of this blog.
Argument 7: “Black people act like they’re all oppressed when most haven’t experienced police brutality or the things BLM campaigns against.”
This argument is often levelled at any POC who speaks out about any issue. It is very commonly used by those who argue against positive discrimination initiatives. There are elements of all the above fallacies in this argument:
Shifting the blame onto black people by implying they are being disingenuous or opportunistic is an AD HOMINEM attack.
Arguing that black people are claiming they’ve all been the victims of police brutality or direct racism is a STRAWMAN argument.
Bringing up rare cases of a black person trying to use a false accusation of racial discrimination to derive an advantage (e.g. Jussie Smollet) is a RED-HERRING.
Furthermore, this argument fundamentally misunderstands how racism works and affects people. You don’t have to have directly experienced police brutality or a racist attack to be affected by it. Imagine being a black person in the US wanting to go for a jog… knowing that a few months ago a black man called Ahmaud Arbery did just that and was shot dead by two white men. That fear is a form of collective violence. Imagine knowing that not only do racist incidents like this happen all the time, they’re rarely ever properly punished. That fact is a form of collective betrayal.
Side note: This is before we consider the micro-aggressions, lack of inclusion, lack of representation and more faced by ALL non-white people in their own ways on a daily basis, not just those who’ve been killed or brutalised.
All these arguments have one thing in common: A superficial appearance of being fact-based and rational. Often, this can lead to people who are not racist but are just mis-informed or easily fooled believing them. These people need to be educated.
As for the people who do this purposefully, the media and the politicians who try and hoodwink the believing masses with fallacious arguments to try and discredit movements not in their interest… we MUST call them out. It is only when we become educated as a population that we can see through their lies and hold them to account. Otherwise, they will continue to lie, continue to control the narrative and people will continue to suffer.