A study from a few years ago demonstrated what many of us know from experience: white people tend to treat you like an idiot for knowing what you’re talking about when they don’t. The gory details:
This study used a signal detection paradigm to explore the Marley hypothesis—that group differences in perception of racism reflect dominant-group denial of and ignorance about the extent of past racism. White American students from a midwestern university and Black American students from two historically Black universities completed surveys about their historical knowledge and perception of racism. Relative to Black participants, White participants perceived less racism in both isolated incidents and systemic manifestations of racism. They also performed worse on a measure of historical knowledge (i.e., they did not discriminate historical fact from fiction), and this group difference in historical knowledge mediated the differences in perception of racism. Racial identity relevance moderated group differences in perception of systemic manifestations of racism (but not isolated incidents), such that group differences were stronger among participants who scored higher on a measure of racial identity relevance. The results help illuminate the importance of epistemologies of ignorance: cultural-psychological tools that afford denial of and inaction about injustice.
When thinking about how much optimism is realistic, I often think about how generations of slaves lived and died and it was actually hopeless their entire lives. I could never accept the way people insist on hope at all times. Some of that is depression and being “too negative.” Some of it is a rational assessment of how hard social change really is. In fact, the hopeful people are insidious because they convince everyone to underestimate the problem. Consider the Greensboro Massacre. It rubs people the wrong way if I say I don’t protest because there’s no point in getting beat up by the cops while people cheer the cops. Pushing protest too far can be life-destroying in a way that shouldn’t be trivialized.
In 1979, some communists and others decided to hold a “Death to the Klan” rally. The organizer didn’t mean it as a physical threat, and he assumed nothing could go wrong because, after all, the cops would be there! A black guy from South Carolina advised against this foolishness and refused to participate when he was told everyone wouldn’t have like 3 guns. The rally happened, the Klan was there, and they killed 5 people and shot some others. News cameras were present. Nobody was convicted. Later, it emerged that the local cops and even the FBI were anticipating a confrontation, and nothing was done to prevent it. That should put the recent chokehold death on video in perspective. Every time someone expresses surprise, I can’t believe they’ll be serious and effective.
That’s not the only disturbing thing. Despite being murdered for calling for an immediate end to the KKK, the community started to shun everyone who’d been associated with that group of activists. Their children went to school having to deal with the family being pariahs. That affects people for their entire lives. It was common for people to imply that the people who died deserved it because they were communists, anyway. It was portrayed as a “shoot-out.” All kinds of insult on top of people’s grief. People got killed for saying there shouldn’t be a KKK, in 1979, with the cooperation or benign neglect of multiple levels of government, and nobody was punished. Bad things can happen when people ignore the naysayers and try to be a hero.
If that’s what I’m up against, I definitely don’t want to be on the same team as a bunch of n00bs and then get graveyard camped by a guild on Vent.