Many people are discussing these days the racism topic.
A black man – George Floyd – was some days ago killed due to – as it seems – police brutality. This sparked a series of protests some of which were violent.
People started to talk against the protests and that violence. Others responded that the violence had started actually from the police. But no matter the details, the question of whether racism is a problem in the US was prevalent in all discussions.
For me, this is an elephant sitting in the room.
All we have to do is see it.
But as in the elephant example, what I see is not what you see…
For some, there is no solid ‘proof’ of racism in the US. And to be fair to the other countries as well, I will extend this to all other countries: For those people who deny the existence of racism altogether, there is no solid evidence for racism against blacks in the West in general (cannot really speak for other countries). There is no ‘proof’ that this group of people is treated unfairly.
The arguments the proponents of this ‘There-is-no-racism’ view have, vary from wrong to ridiculous – with a strong tendency to the latter.
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So for example in the case of George Floyd, I have seen many people asking “How do I know that the police officer did what he did because of racism? Perhaps he is doing the same to white people as well”. That could be a good counter-argument. If we had actually data to support it. If not (which is currently the case), then this counter-argument is just a generalized counter-argument based on ‘doubt’ which we anyway have for everything in life – even for things we see in front of our eyes.
Hey, it is raining.
(But how can I be sure that it rains?)
This counter argument used by those denying the existing racism against blacks (and gays and women etc) is the cornerstone of hypocrisy. They see something (in that case we even have a video) but they choose not to see it because of something else that… might be true. They do not know whether the police officer could do something like that to whites as well. They just assume it. And then based on that assumption, they build their theory.
Convenient is it not?
But simple things are never simple.
The denial of so many in the face of something so evident is based on something very fundamental in human thought: Our inability to prove (or accept the proof) of anything, unless we experience it. This is something constantly mentioned by Harmonia Philosophica, but with regards to science philosophy mainly. Here it is – wrongly – used to justify injustice. Yes, it is true that there can be no positive proof not only of racism in this case but of any other logical proposition of any kind.
The truth is a philosophically elusive notion and cannot be attained, even for the most trivial and fundamental of scientific beliefs. For every scientific theorem or theory is based on unapproved axioms. Change these axioms and you will reach to a different theory (if that sounds weird, then read more Harmonia Philosophica). So if it is not possible to even prove that 1+1=2 (really, even this is based on axioms), how could one prove that the death of a black man under police brutality was because of racism?
And yet, we know it.
People denying the obvious are in this case doing nothing more than using a loophole in our inherent thinking mechanism to deny what in other circumstanced they would accept at ease. It would be right to say “I don’t know” or “I am not sure”, if you indeed said that every time you are not sure about something. But as said above, we are never 100% sure about anything, nor can we be in any way.
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So what is this?
How can we be sure?
The answer is already answered.
By your everyday actions.
By your everyday choices.
By life itself.
Life which transcends the theory and makes us open our eyes beyond the limits of philosophy. Because no matter how you “do not know” whether there is racism, you do choose to be afraid of a black running in the street. No matter how much you are not “sure” of, automatic face detection algorithms you design keep on detecting more black people as ‘criminals’. No matter how much you are not ‘sure’ that there is racism, you still need to revert to nonexistent hypotheses to prove that what you see was not true. Regardless of your inability to pinpoint racism against black people, you do feel weird when standing next to a black person. No matter whether you are – philosophically – certain that black people do have the same rights as other people, it is still true that we have a disturbingly extremely low representation of black people in high-level positions.
Because you see, the greatest problem with science per se, is its inability to testify for the obvious. Even when it is raining, there will always be possible to claim that everything is an illusion and even build a theory based on that illustrious assumption. (Why not? Scientists today even talk about multiple universes which we will never anyway see – and they even get paid for that research) Even when Achilles is running to overcome the turtle, philosophy will still be able to ‘prove’ that Achilles will never overcome it. And even when black people are dying outside, science will still struggle with statistical models to ‘prove’ whether there is racism or not…
So beware of people expressing ‘doubt’.
They are usually the ones with the greatest beliefs.
And when they close their books.
And when they walk outside…
They will be astounded to see…
That Achilles did overcome the turtle.
That the policeman did step on Floyd’s neck…
And some of them, some of them who still have a soul, will come to realize what they knew but they have forgotten. That whatever they know, is because they really don’t know anything at all…
Who put that black elephant in the room?!
- Similar to the argument “How can we know it?” is the opposite argument “But I can prove to you that there is no racism”. In such arguments people tend to use examples of how for example the police was once also brutal to a white person. This is the opposite of what was described above: As it is impossible to prove anything beyond the shadow of a doubt, it is also very easy to claim that you have ‘proved’ something with the relevant assumptions. Again in that case, the very same fundamental limitation of science and our way of thinking is exploited: That whenever we think to prove something, we need to start from somewhere. And that somewhere is always a not-proved axiom/ assumption. With proper models and assumptions, one can even ‘prove’ that our universe does not exist.
- No case is like the other. I have sure not covered all of the here. There are also cases which are similar to the case of black people suffering racism (e.g. women or gay people suffering discrimination) who are not also mentioned here. This is because the purpose of this post is not to generalize or prove anything. The are sites which do that in a much better way while providing all the necessary data for all these types and cases of racism and discrimination. The purpose of this article, since Harmonia Philosophica is a philosophy portal, is to show that philosophy and theory are good but up to a point. And from that point onward, life itself is much more important.
- I have deliberately taken a stand not to refer to the violence in the protests during the previous days. Again, I believe there are many sites which cover these facts in an excellent and very professional manner. The goal of this article is to provide some philosophical insight. Nothing more. And, I hope, nothing less.