Common Decoys & Defenses in Discussions About Racism
Surrounding ourselves with like-minded people may feel good, but it doesn’t create social change. If we expect to dismantle racism we have a very specific job to do: effectively talking with others about racism, especially those with whom we disagree.
Racism skeptics tend to be people with racial privilege, and since we are more likely to be influenced by our same-race peers, that means the majority of this work is up to white people. Understanding common fallacies in reasoning can help us generate responses that guide our racial peers into mindset change, using the following three-step method recommended by communication experts:
First, relate: Acting superior will cause your target to shut down, so emphasize that you are the same as them, and maybe even shared some of their beliefs at one time.
Then, share: Talk about something you learned that changed your mind. This is a teaching moment, but try not to make it sound like one- focus on yourself instead.
Finish by modeling: Demonstrate a growth mindset by explaining how you’ve changed, emphasizing that changing your mind was an opportunity to grow as a person, rather than a concession or loss.
Common statements of resistance (identified by White Fragility author Robin DiAngelo in 2015) are organized below according to the fallacy upon which they rely, followed by an example of the three-step response method for fostering transformation. As you read, remember that this strategy is intended for situations between two people capable of engaging in dialogue- it is not intended to be used with people who are simply looking to argue, or those who hold extremist or fringe beliefs.
The False Dichotomy
This fallacy strives to excuse the denier from antiracist engagement by placing them on the opposite side of a false spectrum where racist is on one end and non-racist is on the other.
The Appeal to Authority
This fallacy values the opinions of white people on matters of racism because of the deeply ingrained belief about their natural authority on all matters, even those about which they have no direct experience.
The Red Herring
This fallacy is used to distract from addressing racism by shifting the focus to other issues.
The Hasty Generalization
This fallacy attempts to excuse the perpetrator from playing an active role in dismantling racism by suggesting that a small amount of work equates to being finished.
The Straw Man
This fallacy oversimplifies and undermines the pervasiveness and systemic nature of racism.
Argument to Pity
This fallacy, which also goes by the technical name “Argumentum ad Misericordiam,” redirects the focus from how racism impacts people of color to a concern for the feelings of white people.
This fallacy attempts to attack the messenger, rather than attacking the problem.
How to Study the Tables
What They Say: Get familiar with the kinds of statements that signal each type of fallacy.
What They Mean: Understand the reasoning behind each statement. That’s what makes the statement a fallacy: it is based on false reasoning.
Response: Practice responses that debunk each fallacy, using the strategically sequenced strategy that fosters growth rather than triggering debate.
When you decide to give these a try, don’t forget the last step: letting go of the outcome. The majority of our attempts will not produce an immediate outcome, but that does not absolve us from doing our part each and every time the opportunity arises. Even if it seems like you were unable to foster transformation in the mindset of a racism skeptic in this particular moment, rest assured that your effort made the next person’s attempt a little easier, and that someone will eventually break through.