Why You Can’t Talk About Race (Or Anything Else)

In a new video segment, the New York Times surveys its overly sensitive readers as to why they can’t talk about an issue that could desperately use some discussion.

Do you feel uncomfortable? Apprehensive? “You know, offend anyone.” Well, that’s pretty weird, since these are all people who don’t see themselves as “racist,” and yet can’t bring themselves to discuss an issue of significance because it make them feel awkward.  But then, that’s the point. These nice, sensitive white folks are deeply concerned about their feelings.

First, let’s make something clear. No matter how wonderful you think you are when it comes to race, you’re racist. So am I. That’s because us white people live white lives, and it beats the hell out of living black lives. Don’t be ashamed of yourself for it. Black guys want to be able to go into a store without the house dick watching their every move too. They may be black, but they’re not stupid.

Second, the reason you’re so uncomfortable about it has nothing to do with blacks, or Hispanics, but with you.  This is all about you, and your feelings, and your incipient guilt and desire to feel better about yourself. You’re not doing squat to help anyone else by being squeamish.

I am a white guy. White, white, white. And I am more than happy to talk about race. And gender. And sexual preference. And pretty much any subject under the sun.  Does that make me racist and insensitive? You bet. Not that I’m any more racist than any other average white guy, but having spent a career with blacks, Hispanics, men, women, spouses, parents, children, talking, eating, hanging with them as if they’re real people, you come to grips with certain things.

For one thing, they’re real people. They can be smart or stupid. They can be good guys or assholes. They are happy or sad, interesting or boring. You know, just like anyone else.

For another thing, your peculiar sensitivity about language is your problem, not theirs. No, you cannot go around using the “n-word,” but they know it exists even if you pretend it doesn’t.  And while you’re busy getting headaches over micro-aggressions, they’re getting shot and beaten, treated like pariahs and criminals.  In the scheme of bad stuff happening, calling America the Land of Opportunity doesn’t register when the alternative is being lynched. See how that works?

We need to talk about this stuff, but like big boys and girls.  What’s preventing this from happening? Why, you are, my fellow palefaces.  It’s your feelings of discomfort.  It’s your imposition of your rules about what concepts are available for discussion, what words are permissible for use, what your perception of their reality is.

Even this is all about you.  That you wrap your self-righteousness up in social justice warrior armor doesn’t change reality.  Race may be a social construct to you, but it’s awfully damn real to blacks and Hispanics.  And to the cop who decides to toss them against a wall for walking down a public street when he needs to make his numbers.

So yes, we need to talk about this. And about gender, and sexual preference, and even fat people.  But unless we’re going to talk about it honestly and openly, it’s just a waste of time, mental masturbation as I like to call it, where we engage in polite, meaningless conversation. We pick our words off an approved list of those vetted by the privileged few who have parsed them to be absolutely certain no one can ever be offended.

In a real discussion, there will be offense. Offense will be given. Offense will be taken. That’s how real discussion happens.   And if that can’t happen, then there can be no real discussion of racism. Or any other “ism.”

And dear fellow whities, whether of the social justice variety or not, blacks and Hispanics aren’t just the perps in our business, but our fellow lawyers, the judges, and legislators who pass good laws and really frigging awful laws.  Some of them are making a lot more money than you. Some wield a lot of power.  And some are a whole lot smarter than you are.  And some aren’t.  You know, just like real people.

Stop the whining, the crying, the self-serving sensitivity and the narcissistic presumptiveness that you are entitled to decide the rules of life for others because they’re too feeble and delicate to speak for themselves.  Show them the courtesy of being real people by treating them like real people.

We need to talk. If you can’t handle it, then move aside and let the grown-ups do it.  And stay out of the way.

24 thoughts on “Why You Can’t Talk About Race (Or Anything Else)

  1. CLS

    Too bad some of those who are whining and moaning about racism and race issues are students at the big Ivy-League law schools…y’know–the types that could actually make a difference.

    1. SHG Post author

      In another age, yes. Now, consider the ramifications as they assume positions of influence.

      1. CLS

        That’s a truly disturbing consideration indeed. I may not sleep well tonight if I ponder such ramifications too long. Good thing I’ve got client bills to generate instead.

  2. Red Light Barley District

    You are so noble esteemed one!?

    Fuck the rhetoric and contests it’s about time you threw a party!

    I promise to run point if you have any second thoughts at the last minute.


    P.S. I know a few black and hispanic “assholes” that will play along. They owe me one for all the times I have shown up and played “pretend” until the crowd thins out and the discussions of communicable diseases become more personal.

    Pro Tip: If your children and or grandchildren aren’t attending any music festivals this summer that involve tents you have failed as a parent/grandparent!

    1. SHG Post author

      Already did the concert under the tent. The first one, anyway. Went there in a Turquoise Jeep, I think.

  3. Elizabeth

    “What’s preventing this from happening? Why, you are, my fellow palefaces. It’s your feelings of discomfort. It’s your imposition of your rules about what concepts are available for discussion, what words are permissible for use, what your perception of their reality is.”


    I’m white, one of my daughters is Ethiopian. When her race comes up in conversation and I call her “black” rather than African American, white people react as if I’ve just cussed in front of a priest.

    I get it. In the beginning, I also had a vague urge to call her African American, instead. But she isn’t African American (in the usual sense of the term– being descended from African slaves and belonging to that culture), and I don’t get to, and shouldn’t have to, mislabel her and lump her in with a group where she doesn’t belong because white people have decided to be offended on behalf of others.

    When my daughter was a toddler and would see another black person in public, she’d jump up and down, screeching, “Same brown! Same brown!” pointing back and forth between herself and the black person. When I tell that story to white people, the reaction is always delayed while they assess if they’re allowed to laugh or not. Good grief.

    In many social situations, it’s the twitchy sensitivity that’s “offensive,” not the racial reference. Once the folks from this video catch onto that, they’ll probably melt in a puddle of tears.

  4. Motorcycle Enthusiast

    I tend to think it’s all pretty simple and fundamental, actually. There will be experiences that others of a different “ism” certainly cannot, thus never will, fully grasp in a mere human lifetime simply due to vast fundamental differences in our varied life experiences. For example, many in society will never ever fully understand and appreciate the profound risks and consequences that a fertile female takes by choosing, or else otherwise is pressured into having, sex (including the risks of having a romp — maybe even a train — forced upon her, like, perhaps at a killer awesome party involving alcohol, music, fun and lots of horny young salivating men, etc.).

    To be on constant guard is something many (well, mostly guys) in society will never fully appreciate & comprehend because they simply will never live that reality.

    Many other things in life require experience in order to fully grasp as well. But, because none of us will never experience every aspect of others’ life (insert “ism” here), we’ll never fully comprehend any number of “isms” that will probably forever exist within the cultures of human existence.

    With that said, most all of us are very good at judging and critiquing others who are different than ourselves. Experts at it even. It’s that whole basic survival complex thing: if it’s different then it’s food! If it’s not food, then… it must be a predator!!

    1. SHG Post author

      Did the patriarchy make you sad today? In your own unintended but ironic way, you’ve proved the point.

  5. Mike G.

    Too bad they don’t ask everyday blue collar people these questions. But then, they might get answers they don’t want to hear.

    Think how many people would be put out of work if we actually reached racial harmony.

  6. bacchys

    I think you’re conflating your personal experiences being a white dude with what every other white dude (and not-dude in varying types and degrees).

    Some white folks would also like to go into a store without being trolled by the House Dick, and they’d probably like it if the local fuzz didn’t think hunting season on them was always open. Is it because they’re white? Probably not. But not *every* black male has an arrest or prison record, either.

    Life in the Great White Ghetto or a Rte. 1 trailer park isn’t exactly similar to that of a lawyer in New York…

    1. SHG Post author

      Did I not include your personal issues? Sorry, but can’t cover the individual pet peeves of every human being. Sheesh.

      1. Motorcycle Enthusiast

        And that stupefying response addresses the opening statement here quite succinctly, e.g., the “Why You Can’t Talk About Race (Or Anything Else)” statement/question.

        The reason/answer is very simple and didn’t require 500 or so words of unnecessary perplexity: because there’s always a House Dick that has his fingers in his ears defiantly singing “nah nah nanah naaah.” See? That’s why.

    2. Lurker

      There is, of course, the issue of overall appearance. Many white people will draw the attentiin of security guards and policemen.

      However, for most white people, it is relatively easy to change this. The key issue is money: if you wear a certain level of clothing, grooming and hygiene, you will not draw attention anymore. Naturally, it also requires you to act the part, which requires a natural bearing and a minimum of manners.

      The blacks don’t have this luxury. Even if they have the money, they are suspicious.

      1. SHG Post author

        Did this really need to be explained? Just because Bacchys is in the weeds doesn’t mean anyone has to join him there.

  7. Greg

    I’ve got dozens of black and Hispanic friends and colleagues, ranging from multimillionaire Ivy League graduates to ex-felons from the projects, and none of them is in the least embarrassed or uncomfortable talking about race. And for the most part, they’re not easily offended by anything a white person might say on the subject, since they’ve heard almost all of it already. They’re much more likely to be bored by the subject than offended.

  8. John Barleycorn

    Just imagine if the neighbors of our fathers had blogs…

    I am still thinking that if Allen Ginsberg was Hispanic and Neal Cassady were Black we might be currently be living in a fascist society or in some sort of preschool political republic purgatory where LSD is randomly infused into the cheese and crackers.

    Good thing they were white and we as a society were able to incorporate both fascism and preschool into our daily racial consciousness.

    Speaking of guilt trips? Don’t forget the “trip”.

    1. David M.

      Damn you for making me click on this video. I won’t get those seven minutes back.

  9. Pingback: From Simple Justice: Talking about race « Hercules and the umpire.

  10. Peter Gerdes

    It’s not always a good idea to drag stuff out and talk about it. Sometimes society benefits from fig leaves that an open honest conversation would rip off.

    For instance, except for the particular fields that study this question, it’s generally harmful to discuss the underlying evidence about the causes of the gender gap in STEM. While there is evidence for various sorts of bias there is also a fairly compelling body of evidence suggesting some kind of innate effect (given a background environment roughly resembling ours). Yet, as I’ve discovered, even in the most educated circles where everyone is intellectually aware of the fact that EVEN IF women are statistically less likely to be good at STEM it might be that CONDITIONAL ON their presence in the field they are more proficient, people aren’t built to think about statistics and *feel* like they might be defective. Indeed, there are studies suggesting that just being aware of this kind of fact makes women perform worse in these areas. In this case trying to openly discuss the issue forces people into either open support for explanations whose prominence makes the problem worse or into advocating extreme interventions to stop all the assumed discrimination. Simply leaving the fig leaf of “we are pursuing programs to encourage women in STEM” up and not saying anything might be the best course.

    As far as race an honest conversation would force us to confront the fact that we even *approve* of a certain kind of implicit racism, e.g., when minorities seek out those with similar background or experiences. Publicizing the fact that various minorities are just as racist, if not more, than privileged groups could be quite harmful to the overall social goal of abolishing persistent, harmful racial stereotypes. Being too aware of just what kind of stereotypes people are likely to hold about you could make the situation worse rather than better. Again, are we sure we benefit from an honest conversation?

    Things like being overweight are even more complicated. The presence of some level of disgust for obesity is quite important for our health. Yet, it’s also horribly cruel and hurtful to tell the grossly obese that we find them disgusting or worse that we shouldn’t seek to fully eliminate this reaction. Maybe it’s better not to openly force us to take positions on questions like that.

    1. SHG Post author

      So, you prefer to live in a delusional fantasy that roughly corresponds with your ideology rather than the real world because truth would hurt feelz. Got it.

      1. Peter Gerdes

        No, I think it’s preferable to believe the truth. But that doesn’t mean we always benefit from public discussion.

        It’s a lot like thanksgiving dinner with your family. Everyone might *know* that aunt so-and-so is an alcoholic and uncle bob is having an affair but that doesn’t mean that openly talking about it benefits anyone. Even if everyone knows the truth we can all benefit from the social pretense that we maintain by not openly acknowledging these facts,

        1. SHG Post author

          So are you the Social Pretense Czar of America? Social pretense is what got us into this mass. Truth is what distinguishes the “real discussion” we need.

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