American Indian Cultural Superiority

Around this time of year, we often see a lot of posts about American Indians, Columbus, and various related subjects.

The general points that (1) the natives were greatly mistreated, (2) that Columbus and those who followed did a lot of horrible things, and (3) that native culture had a number of good points are quite valid.

However, people really tend to go overboard and pendulum-swing in the opposite direction.

No, we do not have evidence that Columbus approved of and participated in sexual trafficking of young native girls. The single quote supporting this conclusion, in its full context, is at worst neutral and is arguably actually criticizing the practice. Columbus’ 1500 letter to Doña Juana de la Torre (pages 434-435).

And, no, American Indian culture was not some perfect utopia, free of greed, selfishness, violence etc. Here is the latest iteration of these sorts of claims that I’ve seen:

Before our white brothers came to civilize us we had no jails. Therefore we had no criminals. You can’t have criminals without a jail. We had no locks or keys, and so we had no thieves. If a man was so poor that he had no horse, tipi or blanket, someone gave him these things. We were to [sic] uncivilized to set much value on personal belongings. We wanted to have things only in order to give them away. We had no money, and therefore a man’s worth couldn’t be measured by it. We had no written law, no attorneys or politicians, therefore we couldn’t cheat. We really were in a bad way before the white men came, and I don’t know how we managed to get along without these basic things which, we are told, are absolutely necessary to make a civilized society.

RedHawk – Seeker of Visions (as quoted by the Intothewild Facebook page)

Just about every statement here is categorically false. I won’t argue the facetiously-articulated conclusion that natives were doing alright and were not in desperate need of Europeans to improve their societies (at least not among the North American tribes); that is a reasonable point. But all the supporting claims and evidence are almost entirely false.

Let’s start with matters of fact. As far as I know, it is true that the natives didn’t have prisons, locks, or keys. However, it is absolutely false that anyone who lacked things would always be given them. No one with even the slightest understanding of humanity could possibly believe such a thing without being blinded by ideology. In particular, the claim that horses would be provided to those without is particularly noteworthy, considering that horses were extinct in the Americas for thousands of years prior to Columbus. They could no more provide their poor with horses than we can provide our poor with Star Trek transporters. The claim that natives had no money can be considered true if you use a reasonably strict definition of money. The claim that they had no written law is, strictly speaking, false. Aztecs, for one, did have written law. However, the alleged speaker in this post is likely referring to the tribes of what is now the United States, and I couldn’t say whether they had written law or not, so let’s assume that’s true. The claim that they had no attorneys is arguable, but the claim that they didn’t have politicians is utterly false.

Now let’s move on to the arguments and reasoning.

It takes a special kind of ignorance to conclude the lack of prisons implies they did not have crime or criminals. This argument is particularly amusing to me since the people who post this sort of thing are often the ones most strongly criticizing the prison system (both with and without reason) and suggesting alternative forms of correction. Well, natives had plenty of alternative forms of correction. Some form of ostracization, shunning, or exile were common. And those who take issue with the prison system might want to know that other alternatives included torture and capital punishment. So, you know, there’s that.

Similarly, the lack of locks or keys does not imply a lack of thieves. Locks and keys exist because of thieves, not the other way around. “But,” one might say, “it’s still true that there weren’t thieves because they had no money and didn’t value property.” That argument is so ridiculous I can’t believe actual grown adults believe it. The idea that natives didn’t really concern themselves with property is just totally absurd. It might be true that they were less concerned with property than Europeans, but if so I would argue that has more to do with a narrower variety of property to own than anything else. And it’s seemingly true that they weren’t concerned with individual ownership of land, insofar as they had such a concept.

But the idea that they weren’t really concerned with property has no basis that I can see unless it’s a paternalistic, borderline racist conclusion based on the assumption that there just wasn’t much property worth being concerned about. Just because we don’t see native clothing, archery equipment, etc. as being particularly valuable, doesn’t mean they didn’t. And as for natives not being concerned about property at all, and being totally selfless with what they had, natives literally fought wars over territory and resources. These wars were certainly smaller-scale and less destructive than European wars, but that can easily be chalked up to differences in technology, geography, and population size (both overall and of individual “states”), not to some magical goodness inherent to natives. That’s not to say that natives were just as concerned with materialism as Europeans, but only to say that this asinine view of natives being as pure as the wind-driven snow is absolute drivel.

Next, the idea that natives couldn’t cheat is utter nonsense. With their smaller-scale communities, I don’t doubt it would be harder to cheat (or at least, to get away with it). Smaller social circles beget greater accountability, after all. But (a) it is absurd on the face of it to claim that any civilization throughout history lacked cheaters. And (b) it is even more absurd to claim that laws being oral would make cheating less common. One of the greatest features of written law is that anyone with enough literacy can, for the most part, understand what the law says. To illegitimately change the law without anyone noticing (in a democracy, anyway) requires a grand conspiracy, probably involving thousands of individuals. To illegitimately change an oral law could, depending on the law, conceivably be done with the cooperation of a bare handful (though as with the positive differences, this is also largely due to differences in scale).

Finally, let’s address the idea that a man’s worth couldn’t be measured by money. If a tribe or civilization did indeed lack money (i.e. currency), then this is true, strictly speaking. However, the implication that material possessions and wealth did not play any role in how natives viewed one another is ridiculous. Like every other culture on the planet throughout all of history, even including many, many animal “societies”, American Indian cultures had hierarchies. And as with literally every other culture, those higher in the hierarchy generally had more material wealth. It baffles me that educated adults could think it was otherwise. Perhaps it was less severe among American Indians than amongst Europeans, Africans, or Asians, but Red Hawk’s claims (assuming this is something he, whoever he is, actually said) of concern with material things being totally absent are pure fiction.

In conclusion, let’s treat American Indians, and other indigenous cultures, the same way we should treat everyone else: by considering them to be actual people who live/lived in the real world; neither ignorant savages who need guidance nor noble savages without failings.

Edits

  1. 2020-11-30 14:06 EST – In the interest of completeness, added “Africans” to the list of groups possibly more materialistic than American Indians

Race History

I’m known to generally favor the conservative side of most issues. This is particularly notable when it comes to issues that are in some way related to race. Not that I am especially conservative in racial issues. For the most part, I am actually more agnostic or liberal on such issues than other issues. However, this conservatism frequently makes me the target of assertions of racism or at least racial insensitivity (usually by white people). It is also often implied and occasionally stated outright that I have little to no experience and do not know what (usually) black Americans go through.

While it is true that while there is any racial discrimination in the world – or even demographic disparities – I’ll never know precisely what it is to be a black American, I’d like to dispel the myth that I’m a sheltered white boy with no knowledge or exposure to other races and cultures.

I know that this will open me to mocking references to “I can’t be racist; I have black friends!” But I don’t think that applies. First, because no amount of racial exposure necessarily means that one can’t be racist; that’s not what I’m going for here. Indeed, there are some who are racist against their own race, whether they be contemptuous black Americans or self-flagellating white Americans. Second, as you will see, this is far more than simply having a token friend who happens to be black.

I’ll attempt to make this a comprehensive list of significant interactions/relationships with black individuals, both good and bad.

Heritage

While branches of my family tree stretch back to the Mayflower, my patrilineal line (the branch of the family tree with which I am most familiar and which has had the most impact on my life) emigrated to the southern United States from Germany in the mid-1800s. To the best of my knowledge, the family stayed largely in southern Mississippi until my grandparents moved to the DC/Maryland area for schooling and work, where my white father was born and raised. My white mother later moved to the area for university. In the intervening years of my father’s childhood, the schools were integrated. With the exception of a few years spent further North, my parents lived the rest of their pre-children years in the Maryland area.

I do recall once asking my dad as a child if my grandparents had black friends (I don’t recall why) and he said not many, but explained that it was circumstantial due to there not being many black people around them. Their openness and inclusiveness was very much confirmed much later when they profusely welcomed my adopted Indian brother to the family, and more recently in their adoration of his half-Indian, half-black daughters. And if I’d been able to use my brain a bit more as a child, it would have occurred to me that my uncle (their son-in-law at the time) was Indian and my cousins were very much visibly his children, to the point of strangers doubting my aunt’s claims of maternity.

Maryland

My earliest memories are of years spent in the house my father purchased as a single man, courtesy of earning money through manual labor and not incurring debt with unnecessary (for him) schooling. These earliest memories are mostly black, because our 3-5 person white family spent a few of those years hosting two other families (at separate times) for reasons I’ve never fully understood. One white family with three girls lived with us for a period of about six months. While I remember the family well, I do not remember much of this time.

Much more prominent in my mind was the longer time that a black family of six spent living with us. Probably because they had four boys who ranged in age from slightly older than me to several years older. They are, with one possible exception, my oldest friends in the world. I still have occasional contact with one or two of them. But in those years they were the older brothers I never had. And though it happened later (ironically when they lived in the same house but we had moved), my only memory of receiving physical discipline from outside my blood family came from their oldest son. That shows you just how close our families were. For the sake of comparison with the rest of these recollections, I recall their family generally being a bit “poorer” than we were, though the accuracy of that perception is uncertain. If true, whether it was due to total income or the strain of four rambunctious young males running around, I do not know.

At the age of 5 or so, my family moved to another Maryland suburb. While a great many white people seemed to live in the subdivision beyond the woods behind our home, our only neighbors were a small black family with a boy maybe 5 years older than me. This boy, too, became an older brother to me. Though I cannot even recall his name now, he is the one who taught me how to ride a bike. He’s is also the one who taught me not to lend fragile toys to stronger older boys, so, you know. Ups and downs.

Sometime around then, my grandparents retired to Mississippi.

After a couple years, the woods on the other side of our house were partially cleared and a new home was built for a black family with three girls around the age of myself and my two younger sisters. At this point, it bears mentioning that any who look up my old street address here (which I will not give) will discover a mansion with a tennis court. That is not where we lived. We lived in the now-demolished three-bedroom single-story that could probably fit in the mansion’s garage.

However, the neighbor’s houses? While not mansions, they are impressive homes. Those are the same as when we lived there. In fact, I drove by during my honeymoon a few years ago, and happened to pass by as the father of the family with three girls was returning home – they’re still there twenty years later. I say all this to say that while I didn’t pay much attention to race as a kid, my general experience in these years was that the black people I knew – as with most people I knew – were wealthier than my family.

My closest secular friend during this time – indeed, the only male school friend who’s name I can recall – was a black boy. As an aside, I recall the older of my younger sisters had a crush on him for some time.

During all our years in Maryland, my family belonged to a particular church, the Maryland branch of which my parents had been members since they returned to Maryland six months after the planting (they had been members of the parent church up North). This is the family of churches to which we still belong, and they were particularly noteworthy then for having racial makeups that represented the areas in which they were located. (I say ‘then’ only because this is thankfully less unique now.) In this case, this had the result that the majority of my friends were black. In particular, I want to mention a Jamaican then-couple, now-family who have been lifelong friends of our family – I believe they have visited us in every house we’ve ever lived in, aside from one temporary situation. I always enjoyed how the father would always go out of his way to refer to me by my full name since his first name is my middle name.

Virginia

When I was just turning 8, we moved to white people country. I’m not sure I saw a single non-white person in my school or “neighborhood” during the second half of second grade. For six months we lived on a farm while my father scouted locations for a new church summer camp. Even though we were in definitively white people country, somehow this church location was still very integrated; I assume because we drove some distance to maintain fellowship with the same church, one of the members of which owned the property we lived on.

That summer, we moved to a different part of rural northern Virginia. And should you or I ever meet, dear reader, I don’t want to hear any nonsense about you coming from a small town if your town had any commercial property or stoplights. We had two stop signs, a volunteer fire department that existed mostly to produce a haunted walk on Halloween, and a country store that was occasionally in business. And three separate campgrounds, including the tree farm my family moved to. I’ve since seen smaller towns, but I had to travel to the third world to do so!

This was certainly still white people country. The denser part of “town” had a mixed population, but the town’s side road on which we lived was mostly white. School, however, was still quite mixed. The county is mostly white by a modest majority and one-fifth black, so naturally there was a fair degree of diversity for a rural area. Something odd did happen here. While I had antagonistic relationships with only two or three classmates at all, my actual friendships in school seemed to shift to being almost entirely white, even while my (much closer) church friendships remained as diverse as the area.

The elementary school here was also the one time in my life that I’ve ever said the n-word. During a 4th grade discussion of a book we’d read for class which took place in the rural south shortly after the Civil War, I wanted to know the meaning of the one word I hadn’t understood and blurted out “What does n***** mean?” I got some of dirty looks and someone told me not to say that word, but no one answered. I eventually figured it out; I suppose I’m fortunate this occurred in a special class with a white teacher rather than in our normal class with the black teacher.

Anyways, I think we (along with the charity-based camp across the street) single-handedly shifted the demographics of town every summer when hundreds of children of all races flooded the cabins across the street and the tents of “our” property. The vast majority of my childhood memories stem from these summers. Imagine the strangeness of living a mile from your mailbox and even further from the nearest people for 9-10 months of the year, but to be surrounded by friends you potentially haven’t seen in years every summer, in a structured environment that produces new friends as well. Camping pro-tip: when you form teams for capture-the-flag, force the property resident to play on the side based around the house or you’re just asking for espionage. And when the son of the man who built the camp from nothing tells you something’s against the camp rules, maybe take him at his word.

It was a fine time for me. I learned to fence hike, to fight swim – anything anyone would teach me. Sorry, I tend to lapse into Morgenstern references at the slightest opportunity. I assume you wish me to return to the topic at hand? As you wish.

During this time we adopted my Indian brother from a New Delhi orphanage. I’ve often teased my brother about thinking he’s black, because he will actually tell people he’s black and can visually pull it off. I learned just this week that a very, very black (I am referring to skin tone) mutual friend of my brother and mine is of the opinion that my brother has earned that right, for reasons which mystify me.

North Carolina

After possibly the five most memorable years of my minority, major changes occurred in the leadership of our churches. This was mostly for the good, but it resulted in decentralization and a precipitous, somewhat temporary loss in membership, which meant a loss of income for the church, which meant the camp (owned by the church) was no longer feasible. Out of a job and disillusioned with much of the goings-on at the time, my parents sought a new home in a new region of the church, and we settled in North Carolina, and we’ve been here ever since. I want to note one standout memory of this move. When I told my three closest friends that I was moving, the one black friend (though this only stands out to me upon recollection) had by far the most intense reaction. It was at church, which was meeting in a high school. This stocky friend (in a jocular manner) grabbed me by the shirt, lifted my scrawny self up against the lockers and told me I wasn’t moving. Unsurprisingly, he’s the friend from those days I’ve kept up with the most, though he is decidedly not the one with whom I agree about things the most. He even incidentally introduced me to possibly my favorite modern Country song. While he and I disagree on many political points and have been on opposing “sides” of race-related controversies, I think it’s worth pointing out that he’s never been among those implying that I don’t talk to black people or have any understanding of their perspective.

My area of North Carolina is pretty diverse. My parents’ county has a small white majority, large black minority, and large populations of Hispanics/Latinos and various immigrants. My county has a white plurality somewhat more numerous than the black population, and a large Hispanic/Latino minority, which I am actively increasing.

Eighth Grade

Anyways, while the lower-middle-to-middle-class street I spent my teenage years on is entirely white and the neighboring street is populated by hicks, I still attended very diverse integrated schools and church. Several things about my one year of middle school are worth mentioning. First, my Virginia school system was more advanced mathematically. In the seventh grade, I was one in a classroom full of Algebra 1 students. In North Carolina eighth grade, I was one of only two students (to my knowledge) in the zone of my high school at that level. For this reason, I spent the first hour of every morning of the first semester taking Geometry at the high school. I mention this to point out that the only other student in that situation that I’m aware of was a young black man, who unsurprisingly also had an accountant mother. We got to spend about fifteen minutes each day on the short bus while he was taken to his middle school and I to mine. While he disappeared without warning after the fall break and I’ve not seen him since, he was undoubtedly my first secular friend in North Carolina, and possibly my only school friend in the eighth grade.

Due to scheduling, we were in a remedial Geometry class, so we were classmates with such geniuses as a senior seated next to me who asked to cheat off my test (the final exam, I think it was), when different rows were given different tests. On the flip side, high school operated on semesters and middle school didn’t, which meant I got to spend the spring of eighth grade sitting in a class full of Algebra 1 students who had no idea why I showed up halfway through the semester, spent the entire class reading Star Wars books, never did any homework, and aced every test. And this is completely unrelated to anything, but there was a nice girl I unseated from her position as academic leader of this algebra class (evidenced by the teacher announcing that only one unnamed student [me] had aced the first test I’d taken and the entire class said her name in unison). It turns out she was born perhaps 30 feet from me and a few months afterwards. This is North Carolina. I was born in the DC area. Just thought it was amusingly and mildly interesting.

Second, partway through the year a black boy moved down from New York and joined a couple of my classes. I made an effort to bond over having moved from a more Northern state. He laughed at the suggestion that Maryland was “north,” but seemed to appreciate the gesture. Later, at the beginning of gym class he asked if he could use my locker (since he did not yet have one) and I agreed. Later that day or the next day, I was shocked when he went out of his way to mock me in front of a group of classmates. The next day he showed up looking to use my locker. I declined rudely. I’m a bit ashamed of that; I was raised to repay evil with good.

Third, I was always a gifted student. It is not pride, but simple fact, to state that I am intelligent. Passing the PSAT & SAT with flying colors in the seventh and ninth grades is evidence in favor. Getting my first and last name mixed up on the SAT scantron and completely overlooking 15 PSAT math questions is evidence against. But moreover, I was raised in a disciplined household. As such, I never even considered the possibility that I might get a C in a class prior to college. It just wasn’t something that happened in my family (except to my brother who had to deal with English as a second language). For that matter, B’s hardly seemed to happen for my youngest sister (who probably has the greatest raw intelligence of the family, or at least intelligence of a scholastic bent). So imagine my surprise when in my easy-A trivial Health class, I seemed to always get sub-par grades without obvious reason. At the time, I merely assumed that I just didn’t do well. The assignments were different from the more concrete STEM or language-based classes in which I excelled. So perhaps it wasn’t my thing. Case in point, one assignment (which I don’t think it was fair to grade us on if we were indeed graded on it), was basically a marketing recognition test in which we had to match up about fifty slogans with their products/companies. I got two correct, one of which was McDonald’s “I’m Loving It.” No doubt this was a result of the absence of TV service of any kind other than VHS/DVD from our home throughout my childhood until that time (we later got Netflix before and during its streaming incarnation).

One thing I hadn’t really noticed was that I was one of very few white students in a mostly black class with a black teacher. My parents (much) later informed me that I received sub-par grades due to the teacher’s racial prejudice. Unbeknownst to me, they had had meetings with the principal (who was apparently a phenomenal administrator and went on to work in the high school) and the teacher. I don’t know precisely what occurred in these meetings, but I know that my parents and the principal were in agreement that I did not deserve the grades I received, but the teacher was adamant for reasons unknown to me. I don’t say this as a pity party or to portray myself as a victim. If this is the worst thing to happen to me (spoiler alert: it isn’t), then I’ve got a lucky life. I say this merely as an example of how it is foolish to assume that someone does not know what it’s like at all to be a local minority or to suffer prejudice based on their skin simply because they happen to be a member of the national majority. I am not equating my experiences with anyone else’s. I know full well how easy my life has been on the whole and how minor this particular incident is. I merely wish to discourage people from making categorical assumptions based on race.

Fourth, my black Spanish teacher hated me. I never knew why; I’d never been disliked by a teacher prior to the 8th grade. She was very sociable, so I suspect it had to do with me being the quiet kid. It certainly wasn’t related to schoolwork since I doubt we were assigned two days’ worth of work that entire semester. I sincerely doubt race had anything to do with it, as there were plenty of white students with whom she got along with well in the class. I say this to point out that there are situations where cross-racial animosity exists, but in which we should not assume racism until given cause. I believe she was replaced by a long-term substitute at some point for reasons I don’t know. He was also black. I don’t remember anything about him other than his involvement in the fifth event.

Fifth, I have only been in one altercation in my life that even approaches a real “fight.” Once, while leaving my Spanish class, a black kid whose name I knew but who I’d never interacted with before, shoved me for no reason whatsoever. I shoved him back. He punched me in the face, broke my glasses, and fled immediately when he heard the teacher coming. The teacher came. Unlike the later event I will recount, he handled things correctly. Brought me to the principal and I told the story. Because I shoved back, I got a couple days’ detention. But as a school-friendless bookworm who could do a day’s classwork in an hour or so, that was fine by me.

There was one more memory that was unrelated to anything but which I treasure too much not to share. The science teacher one day decided to walk along the classroom and point at each kid and declare their future profession. Most kids took a few seconds’ thought. He passed me by without even stopping and declared “Engineer” without hesitation. I suppose software “engineer” is close enough.

High School

I did not attend my base school, but when to a high school with a STEM focus in a predominantly black community. It was here that I first experienced any degree of racial tension. Nothing significant, but the nearly entirely-black students of the base school tended to attend the regular and remedial classes, and so tended to keep to themselves. Those like me who came from a different base school for scholastic purposes were more diverse in race and background (white, black, Hispanic, Pakistani, etc.). We tended to attend honors and AP classes and therefore kept to ourselves. Among fellow Star Wars nuts, gamers, bookworms, engineering enthusiasts, and generally funny people, I found school friends aplenty. While there was nothing serious, hints of racial differences could seep through. One of my friends throughout high school was a black man with whom I share a birthday. A very cheerful, smart, quick-witted individual. I don’t know the origin of this, but it actually took me a while to learn his actual name, because at school he went by “Whitey”.

There was one substitute teacher who bears mentioning. Mrs. Solomon was the high school boogeyman. She was unpleasant, strict, and never taught anything. She is most notorious for reportedly declaring to a class of impressionable freshmen that prison’s purpose is to be the modern slavery of black men.

But in general, high school passed without significant racial incidents. Though I feel compelled to mention one particular event. It’s not particularly racial, but the perpetrator did happen to be black. This individual, with whom I had a contentious relationship through a good part of high school, once came up behind me and jabbed his finger into my rectum (through my pants/shorts). As bad as that was, what really stood out to me about this was not that a jerk harassed me in a crude manner. But that when I was emotionally recounting events to the teacher who happened by shortly thereafter, I was not treated to any sympathy. No action was taken or even attempted against this coward who (again) ran instead of facing consequences. No, what stands out to me is that the teacher – who knew me as an excellent student in her class – became angry and yelled at me. Because I used the word “gay” to describe a male inserting his finger into my rectum. That was the only time in my entire thirty years of life that I have used the word “gay” in a derogatory manner, since I was raised with an emphasis on Ephesians 4’s prohibition on unwholesome talk. Yet I was berated for the one time I used it (with complete accuracy). Is it any wonder that I developed an aversion to political correctness?

I will mention another event more for the humor value than anything. I took a Digital Electronics course taught by a redneck Vietnam vet. The class was laid back, and one of the black students played a song or two of some music with which I am unfamiliar. The teacher kindly told him to turn it off. A few minutes later, I started playing some Brad Paisley. The boy asked why I could play music and he couldn’t. The teacher said in very typical fashion for him, “Be-cawz he’s plaaayin’ country/western.” But he did have me turn it 0ff which I was glad to do, having extracted the intended humor from the teacher’s clear preferences. The same teacher was in the habit of smacking me upside the head whenever he saw me wearing my motorcycle helmet. Good times.

During high school I also visited Guatemala for the first time. The group was very large, so we actually didn’t interact with the Guatemalans very much, other than the local schoolchildren.

University

I spent most of my college years with roommates. In terms of man-months, they were mostly black (meaning I had more white roommates in total, but most of the time had mostly black roommates). We got along splendidly, and I always hold up one of them as a shining example of how to have pleasant conversations about any subject imaginable, up to and including race. During this time, I was the “victim” of a couple of thefts. But what stands out to me is the one attempted robbery, where four or five black men once attempted to rob me. While I have no particular reason to suspect I was targeted for being white, this shows that I do indeed know what it’s like to be alone amongst a group of another race who are, shall we say, less than friendly. (Though I certainly am not implying that this is equivalent to a regular, daily experience of being a visible minority.) There was also the time when I was the only white person among about 200 black people at a recreational event, which was an odd experience. No one was threatening or unwelcoming, but I did happen to notice some inquisitive or mildly confused looks.

University was also when I first became aware just how fast and loose certain types of people will play with the race card. I had been aware that vague “liberal” types existed who might consider me racist for my opinions on immigration, affirmative action, or welfare. I had no idea I would personally be accused of racism by someone who actually sort of knew me simply for disapproving of a particular political candidate, or that the nation’s leaders would begin declaring any opposition to increased taxes “racist.”

During university I made a few additional trips to Guatemala and actually got to meet some of the people there, several of whom are still friends I keep in touch with.

Career

There’s no delicate way to put this. I seem to work in a profession with few black people. Perhaps it’s just been the three companies I’ve worked for, but software engineering – while generally a racially diverse profession – just does not seem to attract that many black men (or women, though that’s another subject). I’ve worked with white men, white women, a single black man (who performed his job admirably; much more so than his white counterpart at a different job), many Indian men and women, Chinese men and women, and technically one white transsexual who I didn’t really work with, but shared a cubicle wall with.

While in my career, I briefly lived with a white family of five, and I lived alone for a few months. The rest of the time, up until my marriage, I always had roommates, and they were always black, except for one guy who is half-Chinese and half-White but for some reason looks so Hispanic that twice now native Spanish-speakers have begun speaking Spanish to his English-only self apropos of nothing while my fluent Spanish self sits or stands at his side, barely controlling laughter.

During this time of increased income and ability to travel, I made enough trips to Guatemala that I’ve completely lost count at this point. It’s how I met my wife (who I brought to the US on a fiance visa) and was adopted into a family of twenty or so Guatemalans and counting when a black man married us while a Dominican provided interpretation to Spanish. We now have a son who will grow up bilingual. During the same general time period, my Indian brother has entered into a long-term relationship with a black woman and produced two beautiful mixed daughters. (As a Christian, I must point out that we do not approve of the sequence of events here, but that doesn’t mean we love anyone involved any less.)

I have also been involved in small groups and specific structured relationships within the church with people of all manner of backgrounds – Dominican, Jamaican, Haitian, Ghanese, Kenyan, Dixie, Yankee, black American, Peruvian, Mexican, etc. And when I say “background” in this context I mean that they’re generally from those places (or in a few cases are children of immigrants). They speak the language, they have the culture, etc.

Oh, and by the way, if anyone – particularly any white people – reading this are offended by my avoidance of “African American” in favor of the word “black”, none of these black people I’ve known have ever taken offense. And several of them have some issue with the term “African American” themselves (though would not consider it offensive). As one brother wisely put it: “It’s all about intent.”

Conclusion

So, do I know precisely what it’s like to be this sort of person or that sort of person? No, of course not. But nor do they know exactly what it’s like to be me, specifically.

Should I be more sympathetic to peoples’ feelings? Perhaps.

Feelings don’t care about your facts

Brian Adams, personal friend

But I’ll stress that while feelings are valid, they are irrelevant to certain discussions of policy, practical solutions, and sometimes morality.

Facts don’t care about your feelings.

Ben Shapiro, political pundit

I just hope people will take a little more time to consider what they may not know about others they dislike or disagree with before they take the lazy, intellectually cowardly route of assuming malicious intent in general and racism in particular. And avoid ascribing characteristics of a group, real or perceived, to particular individuals. That is, after all, the core of racism. As Jordan Peterson has noted, the variances between groups pale in comparison to the variances between individuals.

Black Lives Matter™ vs Christianity

Let me start by saying that, to the best of my knowledge, I have never uttered nor propagated any of these phrases:

  • Black Lives Matter
  • Blue Lives Matter
  • All Lives Matter

This is not because I disagree with the content of any of those messages. However, I think the use of these slogans is counter-productive. Those who agree don’t need to hear it. Those who disagree will not be swayed. And most of all, those who may agree with the content may be affronted at the utterance. By saying “X lives matter” you are implying to a non-receptive audience that someone, namely the person you are speaking to, does not agree that those lives have value. It is only natural for anyone to be perturbed at such an implication, even if they really shouldn’t allow that offense to dictate their response.

But this rant is not aimed at the well-intentioned who use these phrases. Neither is it aimed at protestors criticizing a system for its flaws, real or perceived. No, this rant is aimed squarely at destroying the all-too widespread image of the Black Lives Matter organization proper as a force for good. Even so, this is not aimed even at (perhaps) most rank-and-file members of this organization, though I do hope that they receive it, that they might know the sort of bedfellows they are keeping. Most of all, I hope for this to be read by those who follow both Christ and the Black Lives Matter organization.

I am not going to expose any secrets or opine about ambiguities regarding funding or ulterior motives. I am writing this simply because I finally got around to reading the Black Lives Matter website.

Black Lives Matter is not interested in truth and is founded on misinformation, whether received or produced. The Black Lives Matter About page declares in no uncertain terms that the organization is founded on the supposition that (1) George Zimmerman was guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin and that (2) his acquittal was a miscarriage of justice. I will not opine on the motives of Zimmerman, nor the correctness of his or Martin’s actions.

But I want to make one thing abundantly clear: Even if Zimmerman did murder Trayvon Martin – which is doubtful – there was insufficient evidence to overcome the “reasonable doubt” burden. It is likely that Trayvon Martin initiated the violence, perhaps justifiably so (believing Zimmerman to be a pedophile). Eyewitness testimony is conflicted, and the most condemning witness testimony (much publicized, of course) comes from relatives of eyewitnesses rather than the actual witnesses themselves! The zeitgeist version of events was not helped by a media which forsook its duty as a propagator of truth. MSNBC actually edited the 9/11 phone call to make it appear as though Zimmerman volunteered racial information! Couple all this with other known facts, such as Zimmerman’s Hispanic heritage and black prom date, and the confident assertion that Zimmerman was an anti-black racist who murdered a boy for no reason is simply unsustainable.

This insidious’ organization’s What We Believe page cites their “search of justice” regarding Mike Brown’s death in Ferguson as one of the first major acts of the organization. Any true seeker of justice (among the general public, at least) must conclude that it would have been a miscarriage of justice to convict Darren Wilson. Whether he should have been indicted is beyond my level of expertise, but a conviction (based on publicly available information) would have been wronging a man for his actions minutes after he sought to assist a baby with breathing problems. While Brown’s death does have a number of characteristics that are cause for concern, it is simpleminded to conclude that when a giant man reaches into a cop’s vehicle and later charges the officer (supported by the testimony of black witnesses), that the resulting altercation and any deaths are simply the result of racism. Particularly when Brown was the suspect mentioned and described in detail in a “stealing in progress” minutes before. The slogan “Hands up, don’t shoot” and the like are based upon testimony that was “inconsistent, fabricated, or provably wrong” and ignores testimony by a black eyewitness that Wilson was “in the right” or that he “would have f****** shot that boy, too.” None of this is to say that anyone was right, per se, but that to convict Wilson would have been wrong (based on what we know as members of the general public).

But these are minor quibbles for the earnest Christian seeking to address injustice. Perhaps they are merely guilty of trusting the wrong sources (though at this point, heavily involved parties like BLM™ confidently invoking Mike Brown as an innocent victim is indicative of either willful ignorance or dishonesty). And in any case, there are undoubtedly cases of police brutality, some subset of which involve racism in one form or another.

So let’s look at their goals and beliefs. There are some which give pause, but none more so than their Marxist view on the quintessentially Christian institution of nuclear families:

We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.

Black Lives Matter “What We Believe” page

There, in black and white, they go beyond the admirable goal of mutual assistance in the rearing of families to explicitly criticizing the nuclear family structure itself – a structure mandated for Christians who choose to procreate. Any student of the Bible would do well to avoid alliance with such a group.

Again, this is not a mark against the use of the slogan “Black Lives Matter” or of those who earnestly protest perceived injustices in good faith. But this organization does not deserve your support.

The Killing of George Floyd

George Floyd has recently been more omnipresent on the Internet than just about anything else in recent memory, except maybe the Coronavirus.

For good reason, too. This is obviously a case of substantial injustice and probably murder. At the very absolute minimum, we can say with 100% confidence that the police were in the wrong and that Derek Chauvin committed – at minimum – manslaughter. [1]

Facts

In cases like this, precious few people seem to take time to look up the facts. In this particular case, the most significant facts are well-known and few-to-no major misconceptions seem prevalent as in other cases. Still, it’s helpful to spread around what is known:

  1. Officer Derek Chauvin caused the death of George Floyd by leaning his knee on Floyd’s neck for an extended period of time. Other LEOs indicate that he should never have been leaning on his neck in the first place. Whether or not that’s true, he clearly did so for far too long.
  2. Both Chauvin and the three other officers involved were fired by the MPD the next day. [5]
  3. Both the FBI and Minnesota’s BCA are investigating. [3] Chauvin has been charged with third-degree-murder. [12]
  4. Floyd allegedly tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill. [6] (Obviously, this is in no way justification for what happened. In fact, as far as I know, we can’t state with confidence that Floyd even necessarily knew that the bill was counterfeit.)
  5. Police claim that Floyd was “under the influence”[7] As far as I know, this has not been verified by anyone. And like the counterfeit bill, it doesn’t really matter anyway.
  6. Police claim that Floyd was resisting arrest. [7] Two different videos seem to corroborate this to some degree. [14][15] Ultimately, though, this doesn’t matter. Chauvin clearly went far beyond what was necessary to subdue Floyd and flouted the principle of minimum necessary force.
  7. People have claimed that Chauvin wore a “Make Whites Great Again” hat. This is false. The photo is of Jonathan Lee Riches, who claims (unverifiably) that the photo was altered. [9]
  8. People have claimed that Chauvin was on stage at a Trump rally. This is false. The man on stage was Mike Gallagher of the Bloomington Police Federation. [10]

Reactions

Reactions seem to fall into one or more of these categories (among others not listed):

  1. Expressions of sorrow, disgust, outrage, etc. with calls for Derek Chauvin and/or the other officers to be held accountable.
  2. Expressions of sympathy with the family of Floyd.
  3. White people apologizing.
  4. Expressions of sympathy with / regret regarding the plight of black Americans in general with respect to this particular case.
  5. Indictments of our systems of law enforcement and justice based on this particular case.
Officer Accountability

The first category (criticism of the officers) is fully justified and commendable. There can be no reasonable doubt that Chauvin did something evil, regardless of whether that’s determined to be manslaughter or murder, and regardless of whether Floyd was actually using counterfeit money or under the influence or resisting arrest at some point. Chauvin has a sketchy record at best and the main video is pretty clear. There might be a tiny amount of debatability regarding the other officers. But, at minimum, they’re probably guilty of inaction when they should have intervened. Hopefully, the sheer volume of these reactions will help achieve justice in this particular situation and help ensure it in the future.

Sympathy for Floyds

The second category (sympathy with Floyd’s family) is obviously similarly commendable. On a somewhat unrelated side note: from what I can tell, the family and friends of Floyd have reacted with remarkable restraint and astuteness. It’s easy to imagine how something like this happening to a loved one could cause someone to overreact and want to burn the whole system down. Indeed, such has frequently occurred in cases like this. But that’s not what they’ve done. In particular, kudos to Floyd’s girlfriend Courtney Ross, who said in a clear reference to the community’s reactions (or potential reactions):[2]

You can’t fight fire with fire. Everything just burns, and I’ve seen it all day — people hate, they’re hating, they’re hating, they’re mad. And he would not want that. He wouldn’t, he wouldn’t, he wouldn’t. He would give grace — I stand on that today — he would still give grace to those people.

White Guilt

The third category (white guilt) is silly. The concept that one person is responsible for the actions of someone they’ve never met or even influenced is preposterous. This concept is the source of all sorts of horrible things. In fact, it is even a contributor to racism. For example, when someone suffers some evil (real or perceived) at the hands of an individual or group, then generalizes their resulting resentment, anger, or hatred against that individual’s or group’s entire race. (Examples might include a white man declaring Mexicans are horrible because one “took his job” or declaring blacks evil because he was once robbed by one.) Please don’t feed this concept or give it any validity.

Arabs and Muslims as a whole are not responsible for 9/11.

Japanese people as a whole bear no responsibility for Pearl Harbor.

Black Americans as a whole bear no responsibility for Gosnell’s atrocities.

And white Americans as a whole bear no responsibility for Derek Chauvin.

Sympathy for Black Americans

The fourth category is, of course, more reasonable as it pertains to general circumstances. But I would encourage a degree of caution and restraint as it pertains to this case. I know this will make a lot of people angry, but it’s the simple truth: we do not yet know whether race was even a factor. When a person does something evil to a person of another race, it is not automatically true that racism was involved. Racism is not a person mistreating someone of a different race. Racism is a person mistreating someone because of their race.

For example, when a group of black men attempted to accost and rob me in college, there was no reason for me to assume that they were doing so because I’m white. Most likely, their motivations were purely financial.

Similarly, when a black man stole my bike, I can say with certainty that my race had nothing to do with his motivations (as he did not see me until he was already making his escape).

(My car was also broken into by someone who was probably white, but obviously there was no racism there.)

Both the former group and the latter individual did something evil and deserve to face consequences for it, but there is no reason to assume racism on their part.

We do not know this was an instance of racism. Now, don’t get me wrong. It very well may turn out that it is. Derek Chauvin could be a full-blown white supremacist for all I know. But to my knowledge, we do not yet have any real reason to conclude that he is. He has a checkered record as a police officer, so perhaps there is something in that which does indicate some racism (if so, please let me know).

But, please, “innocent” until proven guilty. In fact, we don’t really know anything about Chauvin’s motives. Was he a racist taking the opportunity to harm a black man as much as he thought he could get away with? Was he an overly-aggressive officer who used excessive force because of contempt for a perceived lower-class individual and/or criminal? Or is he just incredibly unperceptive and stupid? We really don’t know (though we can probably disregard that last possibility given his record; if it does turn out to be true, then that shifts some blame to the department and its policies/practices).

The previous paragraphs should not be misconstrued as a defense of Chauvin in general or a claim that he is innocent in general. Like I said before, he’s clearly guilty of inappropriate force and manslaughter at minimum, and quite possibly murder. And in my estimation, there was some degree of malicious intent. It is good that he was fired the next day and I fully support him facing the full consequences for his actions.

The Floyd Case as a General Criticism

And, finally, we have the fifth category: using Floyd’s death as the basis for criticisms of law enforcement and the justice system as a whole. This is of middling value and accuracy.

After all, the system seems to be working correctly. Within a day, Chauvin and the other officers involved were fired from the Minneapolis police department and the FBI initiated an investigation at the request of that same department[3] (and possibly Trump[4]). Whatever their motives may be, the department is to be commended for this. If the departments involved with Steven Avery (and maybe Michael Brown) had done likewise, perhaps events would have unfolded better. Also, note that Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder.[12]

Using specific cases like this as a wholesale indictment of our system is typically the result of basing conclusions on feelings and emotions rather than facts and logic. I’ve even seen people claim with complete confidence that nothing like this ever happens to white people. There is no basis for this exaggeration. Police kill more white people than they do black people (about 1.5-2.5 [16][17] times as many, in fact). That is a simple, easily verifiable fact, yet people act like I’m making things up because the media has so twisted their perceptions. That is not to say that there aren’t some issues, or that race absolutely doesn’t play a role. Per capita, far more black people are killed by police (about 2.5 times the white rate [16]; higher if you include more historical data [17]). So there is clearly a disparity.

But I really wish people would stop engaging in the practice of assuming the worst possible cause or motive and drawing conclusions based on that assumption.

Insinuating that someone takes a certain position on some issue primarily because they have some undisclosed sinister motive is one of the most obnoxious things a person can do.

Being Classically Liberal Facebook page [11]

It’s what renders people incapable of having civil discussions about differences. And it’s what gives people undeserved certainty in claiming that a negative result involving racial disparities is absolutely caused by racist motivations. It very well may be (and probably is to some degree). But there are other reasonable explanations worth investigating. This applies both to people stating opinions and to statistical disparities on the basis of race, class, sex, etc. Case in point, I have been told that I am racist against Latinos for my opinions on illegal immigration. Never mind that I’m married to a Guatemalan, or that a close Mexican friend has even stronger opinions on the subject than I do.

All I ask is that people not make confident assertions about causes and motives until they’ve ruled out other reasonable explanations and done their due diligence. We don’t need to be 100% certain before making such assertions, but we should at least be beyond the point of reasonable doubt.

References

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lirHz93qJ50
  2. https://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2020/05/26/he-was-kind-he-was-helpful-friends-family-say-george-floyd-was-a-gentle-giant/
  3. https://kstp.com/news/investigation-minnesota-bca-fbi-man-in-medical-distress-handcuffs-/5741256/
  4. https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1265774770877902848
  5. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/minneapolis-police-officer-center-george-floyd-s-death-had-history-n1215691
  6. https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2020/05/28/george-floyd-store-owner-staff-call-police-ctn-sot-vpx.cnn
  7. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/minneapolis-police-george-floyd-died-officer-kneeling-neck-arrest/
  8. https://twitter.com/AlexLehnertFox9/status/1265409119843954694
  9. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/05/27/george-floyd-derek-chauvin-untrue-social-media-claims/5271890002/
  10. https://apnews.com/afs:Content:8993962141
  11. https://www.facebook.com/BCLcommunity/posts/1366133756754376
  12. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/minneapolis-police-officers-derek-chauvin-arrested-george-floyd-case-n1216011
  13. https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2020/05/28/george-floyd-store-owner-staff-call-police-ctn-sot-vpx.cnn
  14. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lirHz93qJ50
  15. https://www.instagram.com/p/CA1BObVnbqt
  16. https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2017/crime-in-the-u.s.-2017/topic-pages/tables/expanded-homicide-data-table-6.xls
  17. https://www.statista.com/statistics/585152/people-shot-to-death-by-us-police-by-race/
  18. https://www.pnas.org/content/116/34/16793?fbclid=IwAR38TyVt1LHj-oz3_1yKX_MLTVR7czcaGa1SVHrygH13aQCjsQG45_9F_6E

Edits

  1. 2020-06-02 09:25 EST – Added reaction sub-headings. Added verbiage to Reactions 4-5 and a couple of other sentences for clarity and specificity. Moved Facts section from bottom to top.
  2. 2020-06-02 11:00 EST – Added embedded posts & videos. Added a couple clarifying words and added the last sentence before the References section.
  3. 2020-06-02 13:13 EST – Added sources for police killing statistics.
  4. 2020-06-05 15:26 EST – Minor word tweaks and clarity edits.

“Women’s” Marches

(This regards the so-called Women’s Marches which took place on 2017-01-21.)

As Christians, we are called to love our neighbor (Matthew 22:39). In this Christian’s mind, this means that we should oppose (in love) the systematic slaughter of 1/6 of our neighbors (2013, source: CDC[1]), including 1/3 of our black neighbors. It means we should avoid giving our approval to any organization or movement which not only defends this practice, but actively celebrates it. (Secular side note: if a practice kills millions of women, it is dishonest to call supporting events “Women’s” anything.)

Similarly, the Bible is very clear on the distinction between a man and a woman. So to engage in activities which celebrate transexualism is also grossly un-biblical. (Secular side note: it is incongruous to call something a “Women’s March” when the supporters have no meaningful definition for the word “woman.”)

There are other examples, but these two are the more egregious incompatibilities between the “Women’s March” and Christianity. They are more than sufficient.

Now some might say that this is not about morals, but about people being free to live their lives how they choose. This is America, after all. Fair enough. That is adequate justification for homosexuals calling their unions “marriage” as long as private citizens aren’t forced to affirm this (etc. etc.). But there are two major problems with this argument.

First, abortion. The victims of abortion are not free to live their lives, thanks to movements, groups and events like these.

Second, these marches are not just about the alphabet soup[2] demographic being free to live their lives. They are about forcing affirmation of these lifestyles on private citizens (excluding the likes of Kim Davis) with serious moral/religious reservations. And, often, they’re about demanding public funds to subsidize these behaviors.

This is what you endorse when you participate in these events. That is not Christ-like.

If you’re not a Christian, fair enough. You certainly shouldn’t be held to a standard you never claimed to adhere to.

But if you call yourself a Christian and think such participation is compatible with that… read your Bible.

(Note: It’s possible someone participating is unaware what it is they are endorsing. Said participation should have been enough to change that. If not, just look for YouTube videos of the speeches given [and watch the total lack of media coverage at next week’s March for Life].)

Notes:

1. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/data_stats/abortion.htm

2. LGB…

Engagement

As always, I welcome any criticisms or disagreements in the form of comments, messages, emails, or smoke signals. But be advised that (a) I may ignore or remove profanity or ad hominem attacks, and (b) the First Amendment does not in any way prevent me from doing this.

EDITS

  1. 2017-03-03 09:19 EST – Added Engagement section.
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