Here’s Why to Resist the “Not All White People” and “Not All Cops” Argument & What to Do Instead

by Rebecca A. Watson on December 11, 2014

in beliefs, change, comfort, life, the artist's way

About half a year ago there were two trends on Twitter that got a lot of attention: #YesAllWomen and #NotAllMen. Without getting into it too much, it had a lot to do with women getting harassed, raped and killed and how not all men were like that.

I read an excellent article about how arguing “Not all men are like that” actually derails the conversation about women’s issues. It was fascinating, well-written and penned by a man, Phil Plait.

While I was falling asleep last night I had a nagging feeling that this article could be extrapolated to what people are saying today when they’re talking about racial tension and police brutality.

“Not all police officers are like that.”

“Not all white people are like that.”

These aren’t helpful arguments. They aren’t even arguments. Why?

1. Black people already know this. Everybody already knows this.

Have you read Chris Rock’s interview in New York Magazine? “The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.”

Of course I’m not saying Chris Rock’s view represents every black person’s view, but I’d wager that most black people don’t think that every white person is a racist or that every cop wants to kill them.

Honestly, I would go so far as to say that everyone know this already. The horse is dead. Stop beating it.

2. This is defensive behavior.

I’ve heard the argument before: If a person gets defensive, they’re usually guilty. I don’t know if that’s true,  but I do know that people who get defensive generally aren’t trying to change or make concessions. They’re interested in defending themselves.

There are plenty of reasons to stop being defensive, and one of the most important ones is that being defensive keeps you stuck exactly where you are. Nothing changes. And we need things to change. Our country — our world — can not continue like this.

Wondering how to stop defensive behavior? Here are some tips.

3. The people saying this aren’t furthering the conversation. They’re derailing it.

The dialogue isn’t about the white people and the police officers who aren’t the issue. The argument has to do with those who are causing problems, and not small problems for a few people, but life-and-death problems for a large part of the population.

If you’re feeling defensive and want to sidetrack the conversation, keep quiet and listen. Listen, read, share, discuss the altogether troubling number of stories of racism and police brutality in our country.

4. When a black person is walking down the street or chatting with friends or walking home alone, they don’t know which group a white person/police officer is in.

You know you’re not racist. You know you’re not going to take out your gun and shoot a black person when they’re digging in their pocket for their cell phone. But they don’t know that. At all.

I’d like to elaborate further on this, but I just have no way of understanding this from my privileged white upbringing. The only time I worried about cops was when I drank as a minor. Most of the experiences I’ve had with police officers have been positive.

As a woman, I do understand living in fear walking down the street every day. It sucks having to be constantly vigilant, choosing clothes based on protection rather than style (no dresses when walking alone).

But it’s still hard to imagine living in fear of the very element paid to protect me. I have absolutely no idea of how it is to be considered guilty before being able to utter a word. Not one word. And that is a sad reality, and one that is foreign to me.

Because of this, my gut reaction is to hide, be quiet, not speak up. My fear of being wrong, my fear of being perceived as racist plays up here. But I owe the world and the children who are inheriting it more.

We all do. We can do better.

It doesn't get better until we do better

OK so what can we do?

  • Stop making these arguments. Bite your tongue.
  • Read those articles I posted about reasons to stop being defensive and tips to stop it.
  • Listen to stories that make you uncomfortable. Resist the urge to tune out. Try to empathize.
  • Understand that you may never understand, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try.
  • Accept that you might have some hidden racist beliefs. Be willing to examine them, challenge them and change them.
  • Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Start talking. Move through your fear. Share posts that make sense to you and resonate with you.
  • Engage with intolerance.
  • Realize that you can respect law enforcement officials and still hold them to a high standard. (Thanks, Jon Stewart.)
  • Keep talking. Keep engaging.
  • Don’t give up.
  • Listen to yourself. Use your gifts and talents to fight for what you think is right.

I’m going to be honest here. I didn’t want to post this. Or what I wrote last week. If you have followed this blog for any length of time, you know I generally avoid news, current events, politics, etc.

I told myself that the reason for this is because I come from a journalist background and have had it drilled into me that I must not have any opinions in order to be objective. No bumper stickers. No lawn signs.

But the truth is that I am afraid. But the fear I have is ridiculous compared to those who live every day not knowing if their hoodie will be deemed threatening or their candy bar perceived as a weapon.

I can’t sit idly by any more, especially when I believe that both my writing talent and my creative ideas come from the divine. As Julia Cameron says in The Artist’s Way:

The refusal to be creative is self-will and counter to our true nature.

If there is something inside you that wants to get out, let it. If it scares you, even better. You need to say it that much more. And if you don’t feel ready to do that yet, share the creations of others that resonate with you. Like this article 🙂

**I borrowed heavily from this article in Slate. I take plagiarism very seriously. I tried to use my own words where I could; I think the idea is too important to not share but I’m making sure to give credit where it’s due.**  

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Richard P. December 12, 2014 at 2:40 am

As a black man, regardless of what you hear from the Facebook activists, the average law abiding black person living in the hood doesn’t fear the cops. We fear violence from our own people. WE ALL KNOW this to be a fact, but sometimes our proud nature as African Americans will not allow some of us to admit it to those outside our own race. Until we as black people want to admit the fact that black-on-black crime is the true problem plaguing the black community, the violence will continue, so therefore more police will be needed in our communities, and more of these incidences will occur. The best thing you can do as a white person is not be guilt tripped by those seeking financial or political gain by pitting two groups of people against each other, but to work with those like MLK who seeks unity.

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Rebecca A. Watson December 15, 2014 at 1:48 pm

Thanks for your comment Rich. I definitely agree that seeking unity is the best option of course. Not always easy when there are so many different viewpoints. I think tolerance and non-violence are good goals too. Hugs to you!

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