Saturday, May 2, 2015

Reacting to Baltimore: Sweeping Generalizations VS.. Sweeping Degeneralizations

Once again, I’ve noticed a trend in white commentary on Baltimore. And I know people are growing weary of discussing the issue. But it’s still an issue worth discussing, so discussion isn’t about to stop.  And thus, I’d like to respectfully address the following argument:

“Not all black people are thugs. Not all police officers are bad. Not all white people are racist.”

Although totally true, statements like these are not useful at best and harmful at worst.

In my experience, this sentiment can be translated in a couple of ways: “let’s just stop talking about it” or “I’m frightened by the demonization of the police, but I swear I’m not racist!” Either way, and no matter how well intentioned, it is used to shut down a very important conversation that is worth having.

You see, I completely agree that sweeping generalizations are harmful. Stereotyping all blacks as thugs is obviously harmful to black people and black communities. Stereotyping all whites as racist is unfair and distances those who are sympathetic toward the plight of their darker-skinned neighbors. And stereotyping all police officers as violent bullies paints good, integrity-filled men and women in a negative light which they never earned and diminishes the respect which they did.

But here’s the thing...sweeping degeneralizations (yes, I know that’s not technically a word) are also harmful. As I said before, they can only hinder a discourse that needs to take place no matter how messy it may get.

No, not all black people are thugs. But if someone is being treated unfairly-even killed-because of that stereotype, we need to seek justice for them and their families. And, accordingly, we need to investigate the police involved in said situation. Not only should they face a just punishment, but they should be removed from the police force so as to no longer taint the relationship of the police force with the people who rely upon them. And even though we all would like to see ourselves as free from the Scarlet Letter of racism...I’m pretty sure every last person on the planet is at least a little bit racist. It’s hard to escape unintentional stereotyping of others based on how they look or where they’re from. That’s why we all need to be willing to question our own perceptions and motives. Because racism doesn’t consist simply of the “big things” like slavery or segregation. Indeed, racism is so dangerous because it can be so subtle. 

In conclusion, I would like to congratulate Baltimore concerning chief prosecutor Mosby’s decision to charge the officers involved in the murder of Freddie Gray. Hopefully this is just one of many steps towards a freer, more equal America in which those who would abuse their power are no longer allowed to harm those over whom they wield it and no longer allowed to slander the names of others who hold that same power with more noble hands.

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