The Black community holds the aspiration of American ideals. They are the barometer of whether we have attained the lofty goals set out in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights because it is their oppression and aspiration for equality that has defined our nation. The Black community lives and will achieve its aspiration by God’s grace because it sure won’t by white privilege. You can’t have white privilege unless you have Black unprivilege, now can you, so white people — as a group, not as individuals — will oppress Black people as long as possible unless and until, white people — as a group, not individuals — gives up our privilege.
Back on or about 3 June — it all seems so long ago — not long after the George Floyd Black Lives Matter protests erupted across the country, I was watching Deadline White House with Nicolle Wallace on MSNBC when she asked Maya Wiley how Black folk be able to have their own brother murdered on the streets by a white cop and have the good grace under the sudden pressure of the national spotlight to be gracious and cool and stuff. We all know that the Karens of the world would be throwing the biggest hissiest fit in all the world and wanting to talk to all the managers if it were a white person enduring this. Her response really resonated with me. Maybe it will with you, too.
This is something we see day in day out, year in year out, generation in generation out. In the black community, this is a common occurrence. We are constantly calling upon the nation to see and recognize the pain of injustice. and, unfortunately, the very thing that happened to George Floyd, are the things that we and our families are talking to our children about every single day… This is a grace that we have carried for generations, and we will keep carrying it because our hope is in the aspiration of a country that lives up to its desire for democracy.Maya Wiley, Deadline: White House on 3 June 2020
Below you can watch it your own self. Although, we know no one watches video on Ye Olde Blogge because buffering. We can land people on the moon, but we can’t watch video without buffering. How is that even fair?
That Black people have to aspire to equality and with that aspiration carry our democracy forward to a more perfect union, tells you how little our democracy has achieved in its 245 year existence. The only way for our democracy to meet those aspirations is if white people give up our privilege and grant Black people equal rights. To paraphrase Nelson Mandela, Unless everyone has the same rights, they aren’t rights, they are privileges.
There are several biases and heuristics — that is as conceived of by Tversky and Kahneman when they were developing Prospect Theory and Behavioral Economics, not as in racial bias — that prevent white people for being more effective change agents. First, illusory superiority and strangers. Second, Prospect Theory: people hate taking chances unless it is to avoid a loss. And, third, an amalgamation of social desirability bias and prejudiced norm theory.
I’m mixing two ideas here, illusory superiority and the way we tend to react to strangers. Illusory superiority is the cognitive bias in which we think we are better at something — okay everything — than everyone else is: I’m a better driver, lover, logician, and other such random skills and attributes than all of the other losers out there — except, I really am. You’re not, I’m sure, but me. Yeah, I am.
Just as a quick aside, you may recognize the Ol’ Pussy Grabber in this description. If you did, give yourself a gold star. Like all mental illnesses, narcissism is something we all do — illusory superiority — writ large and to a point to which your life is no longer functional, and I think we all realize how dysfunctional the Ol’ Pussy Grabber is. Aside over. That wasn’t too bad, was it?
Studies have looked at a number of settings and found that it occurs in almost any setting imaginable and any skill or attribute imaginable. It is closely related to the infamous Dunning-Kruger Effect in which someone is so ignorant of the skills and abilities involved in an endeavor that you vastly overrate your ability to do it, which may explain why the Ol’ Pussy Grabber is always claiming that experts in fields, I don’t know, like infectious diseases and pandemics, are saying, Sir, sir, how do you know so much about this? and the Ol’ Pussy Grabber gives humble brag of a shrug and says, I don’t know. I guess, I just have a talent. Whatever, he so fucking stupid that he doesn’t realize what he doesn’t know, and so narcissistic that he assumes his ever fart is genius.
Luckily, for us down here in reality, if you educate people about the skills and knowledge needed in an area, it corrects for the overrating present in the Dunning-Kruger Effect (yes, you’ve gotten it wrong because that is all there is to it). Narcissists can’t learn because they assume they are perfect.
Illusory superiority has been mostly tested on Norte Americano types, so maybe it is culturally dependent. There is some evidence that Far East Asian cultures — collectivist cultures — underrate their abilities in order to fit into the group and preserve group harmony.
As painful as it is, white people — including all of us good liberal white-types who have been either marching with or cheering on the Black Lives Matter protests — have to accept that we as a group are racists because we live in a society that is systematically racist. We perpetuate it by participating in it even though it doesn’t feel like we have a choice. We have a choice.
White people have to accept that as a group, when white people think of Black people and other People of Color on any number of attributes, they see themselves as being superior. It is illusory superiority projected onto the in-group scale. In a sense, white supremacists and racists are all suffering from the Dunning-Kruger Effect. In essence, they are too ignorant of the world to realize that they are not superior to People of Color in all ways. If there is any comfort in that.
Prospect Theory: People hate risk, but will take a risk to avoid a loss
How does prospect theory relate to white society forcing Black people to carry our aspirations for a more perfect union in which all people are created equal? White people inherited systemic racism and overt racism from our forebears. Changing the system is a risk. It has been well established that people hate taking risks. We naturally — and when I say naturally, I mean, we evolved — to seek the surest choice possible by basing that choice on past experience.
For example, way back in the dark ages of April 2019, I predicted that Election 2020 would be the safe bet election and that Dems would seek the safest choice. Not just the safest choice in terms of who can beat the Ol’ Pussy Grabber, but also, who seems like a tried and true candidate. I predicted Biden because this election would be like buying earthquake insurance AFTER the earthquake struck. That was a year ago before the spring of impeachment, #COVID19, George Floyd and Blacks Lives Matter, murder hornets, locust, the great Saharan dust storm, and cheering Putin’s paid assassins killing our soldiers in Afghanistan. Don’t those seem like halcyon days of yore? Innocent days, indeed.
If electing a president seems like a big risk, and it is. It is a lot like getting a roommate; you never know until it moves in. YIKES! Then changing the entire society will seem like a colossal risk. As infuriating as systemic racism and white supremacy are, we have to acknowledge the intimidation factor of making such a fundamental and basic change to our entire way of life.
After all, systemic racism beat Hitler. It got us through the Great Depression — sorry Black people FDR had to sell you out to get the New Deal through Congress, he he, so he could help white people. You understand, right? We got you thirty years later with the Great Society, right? We’re all good. Hunh, um, homey? Yeah, right, whatever, jackass cracker! It got us out of any number of recessions, bailed out NYC, saved the auto industry, and got us through the Great Recession. So, why change now? The new system might not get us through the next crisis or the current one.
In the eyes of white people — even though no one consciously frames it as such — we are asking for that big of change. And, it is one reason why white people keep slipping into denial and complacency after the protesters all go back home.
Only, this time seems different. This time seems like taking the risk might, just might, avoid a big loss.
Social Desirability Bias and Prejudiced Norm Theory
Social desirability bias is the cognitive tendency for participants in research studies to give answers that conform to cultural norms and expectations rather than their “real” answers. You know, people lie rather than coping to being racists or at least would before the Ol’ Pussy Grabber made racism great again.
Prejudiced norm theory is the proposal that when people who harbor biases believe that others in their environment share the same biases, they are more likely to act on them. So, it means when the Ol’ Pussy Grabber is dog whistling his way through every public remark and re-tweeting racist Nazi propaganda that anyone who has any sympathy towards racist beliefs is likely to go full Karen on some hapless PoC when next they meet.
Disparagement humor are those harmless racist sexist Islamophobic homophobic jokes that we like to tell, but when overheard by people who harbor racist sexist beliefs encourage them to behave in racist sexist Islamophobic homophobic ways at their next opportunity. It’s why we don’t tell those jokes any more. Don Rickles and Phyllis Diller may have been funny, but they also caused a lot of harm to vulnerable communities of people.
We all know that we shouldn’t express our inner racist too explicitly or even out loud, or, at least, we used to until Obama got elected — Thanks Obama! — and made all those closeted racists go crazy and start birtherism and sending those hilarious memes of Michelle Obama as a gorilla or transperson to everyone on their work email server and get reprimanded or fired. How was that even fair? The Ol’ Pussy Grabber could do it why couldn’t they?
White people suffer from a form of social desirability bias because they know they cannot openly express racist ideas, so we repress them or cover them up. In short, we lie. Because white people haven’t honestly explored their own racist tendencies, they cannot tell if describing someone as being black is racist or whether describing a Black person as a monkey is racist, so they figure they had better not use either, right? If that’s not the epitome of asininery, I don’t know what is. Really people? You can’t figure out of it would be bad to claim that all lazy Black people will be happy to harmonize on the south forty if you give them a mess of fried chicken and watermelon while you sit on your porch with your mint jewlep?
Of course they can. They just pretend not to understand when they get called on it. But, on the other hand, too many good white liberals are uncomfortable talking about race and for fear of exposing their inner racist. The solution is to get to know your inner racist, which is hard to do because it is so ugly. Much easier to blame Black people for making us uncomfortable with ourselves and proclaim that we don’t see color, honest, we really don’t.
The Aspiration of Black Americans
How does all this relate to the aspirations of Black Americans for freedom and equality? They are holding out hope that white Americans will find the moral courage to confront their inner racist and resolve our racist thoughts, urges, and feelings. The George Floyd murder seems different because it came at the perfect intersection of frustration, anger, and angst over the Ol’ Pussy Grabber in general, #COVID19, and the economy. The repeated exposure to video of cops gunning Black men down in the streets has helped sustain our resolve, but there was something about that smug asshole kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for over eight seconds knowingly and willfully murdering him while people begged him not to that really forced white people into this #WhatTheActualFuck moment.
As we’ve seen with other watershed moments, Trayvon Martin, Sandy Hook, Michael Brown, the Las Vegas bump stock massacre, Parkland that these moments are fleeting. If we are to make actual progress, it must be done quickly before the emotional energy of the moment is dissipated and shifted to something else. Unfortunately, I don’t know what that should be. Maybe you could share your thoughts in the comments.
This image was found using a Creative Commons search. It was created by “Belfast Mystery Players – If I Should Fall From Grace With God“ by Alan in Belfast. And, it is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.