Rhetorical Questions And Answers

There is no dispute that racism exists and, where it exists, should be condemned. But that banal statement doesn’t answer the question of what’s racist. More importantly, it fails to address the ubiquitous cries of racism at every ill, whether real and flagrant, imagined or perceived by the accuser even if unintended by the accused.

Charles Blow uses three rhetorical questions to make a point about racism. It’s putatively about Trump’s “go back” comments, and the dichotomy in America in appreciating the racist nature of the comments and labeling them so, but it goes much further.

When did we arrive at the point where applying the words racist and racism were more radioactive than actually doing and saying racist things and demonstrating oneself to be a racist?

How is it that America insists on knowledge of the unknowable — what lurks in the heart — in order to assign the appellation?

Why are so many Americans insisting that racism requires conscious, malicious intent in order for the title to be earned?

There are fairly straightforward answers to each of his well-crafted questions, and therein lies the problem: Blow can ask. Can anyone seriously answer in a fashion other than “you’re so right” without being called a racist? And even if they are called a racist, does the epithet sting anymore, or has it become so common that racist, like Hitler, is just another word to be blithely hurled as the easiest retort?

The real point of Blow’s rhetorical question isn’t to evoke a response, but to nudge the Overton Window of racism further away from discussion of what is racism to why white people won’t do racism when black people tell them to. Why are white people such reluctant allies? Why failure of white people to come to the aid of black people when they assert racism exists makes them racists too.

By refusing to add your white voices you gave the defining of racism a black face. You allowed people to believe that the telling of truth and bearing of witness by some, we black and brown few, has the appearance of being corrupted and compromised by ignoble motive.

Blow’s words are tricky. He speaks truth and honesty. You corrupt them by allowing them to be “compromised by ignoble motive” by your failure to accept Blow’s characterization, because he’s black and you’re not, and lend your voice in support. Do you have any doubts? So what? A good ally doesn’t question. A good ally is a soldier in the war against racism and stands ready to die at the command of his general. Blow is the general. He says die for him, and you must die or be racist.

I believe that too many of our white neighbors are choosing to be intentionally blind to the enormous breadth and scope of racism in this country, because to acknowledge it would be to condemn self, family, friends and community. It would be to recognize that much of their existence is privileged, and conversely blackness is oppressed.

Yet more rhetorical tricks, although not of Blow’s making. If your child, parent or neighbor was to say something you found to be racist, would you not challenge it, correct it, or even condemn it? Most of us would, and when it’s happened as it has for many of us, have done so. But the call isn’t to correct, even condemn, our “self, family, friends and community,” but to punish them, and punish them harshly for their racism.

This isn’t about just our intentional blindness, but that what we are to acknowledge is what we’re told to acknowledge. We aren’t expected to condemn our families for what we find offensive, but for what Blow, or any black person, tells us is offensive. If a black person point and shouts “racist” at our family, we’re to pull out the long blades and swing with all our might.

And then comes the last rhetorical trick in this one paragraph, the juxtaposition of white existence being privileged and blackness oppressed. This creates a false dichotomy, where the only options are privilege or oppression. It might be read as suggesting the sides should be flipped, with black people enjoying the privilege that critical theory ascribes to white people.

No one should ever be oppressed because of their race or skin color. And no one should ever enjoy a privilege because of it either.

But this comes from someone who spent his career fighting for equality, which was once, not too long ago, the goal. It no longer is. Not even the word is acceptable anymore, having been replaced with “equity,” which provides a level of vagueness that allows the fudged rhetoric Blow provides. Equality led us toward a color blind society, which is now unacceptable because it’s racist. Instead, we must now see race, see blackness, and to prove we’re not racists, acquiesce to its demands.

Years ago, I cheered for Charles Blow’s daughter when she won the Fencers Club High School Invitational girl’s foil championship. It was the same year my son won the boy’s epee championship at the same invitational, winning over Ayyub Ibrahim. Ayyub was a better fencer, but it was my son’s day. After the bout, we all hugged each other. The boys were brothers.

I watched Ayyub grow up, as a fencer and a person. I had been his surrogate father at North American Cup competitions, as I had for other young fencers whose fathers weren’t able to be there regardless of race, religion, gender, whatever. I saw racism. I got in the way, physically, to tell people they had to go through me to get to the kids, which was odd in that the kids were generally bigger and stronger than I was. But as a white adult, my physical presence made a difference, and I used it, willing to take a punch if it came to that. It never did, by the way, but I was ready for it.

Now I’m not allowed to have a say. Now, my answers to Blow’s questions would make me racist. I would have taken a punch for his daughter. I still would. But I will not be told that I can’t answer his rhetorical questions without being labeled racist because I’m a white guy.

20 thoughts on “Rhetorical Questions And Answers

  1. Jevioso

    [Ed. Note: Music is fun and entertaining. Humor is fun and entertaining. Videos of podcasts are not. Deleted.]

  2. Hunting Guy

    Thomas Sowell.

    “The word ‘racism’ is like ketchup. It can be put on practically anything – and demanding evidence makes you a ‘racist.’ “

    1. SHG Post author

      Demanding evidence that you can put ketchup on everything makes you a racist? Sorry, but I’m an analogy pedant.

      1. Norahc

        Demanding evidence that ketchup can be put on everything is racist because it denies the life experiences of mustard, mayonnaise and salsa. Ketchup privilege has historically been used to oppress the other condiments of color.

        Whoa…that was an incredibly easy path to go down. No wonder so many people believe and use that type of thinking.

  3. Cinnamongirl

    I’ve become numb to the rhetoric and refuse to engage. I’ll never play lead guitar in a rock and roll band or write the next great American novel or blog. Instead, I offer to the world the talents that I do have: a passion for justice, empathy, and kindness. And to my son all the love I didn’t even know I had. If some people call me a racist for whatever reason, I no longer care. It’s their issue not mine. I paid my dues and know who I am. A life well lived is the best revenge. F. Scott Fitzgerald

  4. B. McLeod

    This will suffer the same desensitization as all the other “outrages” perpetually decried by the outrage crowd. Once everything is racism (including the black racists’ own racism) then nothing is meaningful racism anymore. In what has been reduced to a competition between Caucasian racism and non-Caucasian racism, there is no moral high ground.

  5. NotARacist

    You’ve overthought this problem. If you’re not racist, you don’t say or do racist things. That’s not so hard, now is it?

    1. SHG Post author

      When you put it that way, it does sound simple. Except for the one nagging problem: who decides what’s racist and what a white person is allowed to say and do without being called racist? That “begging the question” problem complicates things a bit.

  6. B. McLeod

    Our current “identity politics” are steeped in racial stereotyping, and amount to the very “racial politics” the Supreme Court’s decision in Croson suggested would never be okay. Slipping into the place they have been allocated in the Democratic big tent is a losing stratagem for black voters. From the days of Fullilove (when the federal government permitted and endorsed governmental set-asides), black citizens have been steadily losing socio-economic ground. Now, the Supreme Court has moved the pendulum back on set-asides, and the support of all black voters is simply taken for granted by the political left. No need to do anything for them, because, after all, TRUMP. They can’t not be against TRUMP, no matter what.

    But blacks are no longer the Cool Kids in the big tent, having been pushed aside by the LGBTQ fad du jour. Blacks are no longer even the largest “minority” voting demographic, having been pushed aside by Hispanic voters. If there was ever a day when lock-step, racial identity politics made sense for black voters, that day has passed. They are just signing up for another game with rules that work against them.

    1. SHG Post author

      One of the many irreconcilable problems with identity politics is that who is above/below whom on the victim hierarchy shifts without notice or reason, so one moment, you get to give orders to the world and the next you’re told to shut up and do as your told by someone with more points today, who had fewer yesterday, and who knows tomorrow.

  7. pml

    Not more than a couple of years ago a person of color meant you were black or African American. Then all the sudden Everyone was a “person of color” . What the heck happened and I wonder why the black population didn’t rise up at everyone co-opting there ethnicity?

    Puerto Rican’s and Hispanics never were even considered minority on most job applications

    1. SHG Post author

      The POC term was used to create the block of minorities sharing similar oppression, but it blends Caribbean blacks with Puerto Ricans with Chinese. If I was of African descent, that would piss me off bigly.

  8. Richard Kopf


    As a famous (now old) white guy once said in a movie, “We all have it coming.” That ultimate truth applies to Charles Blow too. It is a pity he can’t recognize it in himself.

    All the best.


    1. SHG Post author

      And I’ll still take a punch for him if need be. It’s not about him, but about me, and he’s not going to change it either way.

      1. B. McLeod

        If there’s enough sugar and lemon, and if the bartender had the good sense to use Jameson, then I could see my way clear to dutifully preventing Blow from over-imbibing by drinking one (or two) myself. Sure, why not?

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