Ending Racism by Enrollment Rather than Privilege and Guilt

Following is the latest from another round of replies on the same thread on Medium that I posted about yesterday. This is a rich discussion even though there is a bit of talking past one another.

  • I am challenged on whether I am diluting the original author's experience
  • I claim that writing about racism implies a goal of changing the system
  • I lay out my ideas on how discussion of privilege is often, "an underhanded way of slandering people and “being right” without affecting any real change"
  • Why I think guilt is not enough to affect change and instead we need to enroll everyone

I’m going to start by talking about what we agree on.

Miss Matti’s piece as written is perfectly fine as it is and no one is asking her to change that piece. As written, it moved me to care enough to respond.

My response isn’t neutral. I did challenge a perception. And I did make a suggestion. It’s my right to do this just as it is her right to put into words how she felt about her direct experience. It’s also her right to ignore me if she thinks I am a waste of time.

I would like to clarify that if Miss Dominique Matti feels discouraged or diminished in any way, by any word of what I have written, I will gladly apologize to her directly for this. Not that she should care about what I think other than the extent to which I make sense (which is exactly the extent to which I care about people).

You are right also that Miss Matti may not be interested in changing the system with her piece. But her writing isn’t neutral either. And it just so happens that we are agreed: We do not care to have racism exist at all. Let’s squash it.

And what good would it do to end racism if the system remained exactly the same? Changing the system is implied. This is what I see as the larger purpose.

Yes, I am presumptuous to assume she would care to hear my thoughts on the matter. I am fine with that.

You are right that I have my own purposes. I desire to defeat tyranny in all its forms, including the tyranny imposed upon Black Americans. And I intend to be really nosy and I get involved in discussions that don’t concern me directly but are interesting nonetheless. I intend to challenge perceptions when I think they do not serve the larger purpose.

Maybe I need to check this, because maybe I’m being discouraging or shutting people down. I am taking that to heart as a part of your message to me.

A Pet Peeve: Privilege and Guilt

I will also own that discussions of privilege and guilt are generally a pet peeve of mine. This is not always the case, but I find that it is common: discussing privilege is used as an underhanded way of slandering people and “being right” without affecting any real change.

Here’s how this game works: I declare someone in power and comfort to be privileged. I talk about how my people are suffering. If the privileged react, I know I’m right and I shut down anything they say as [xxx]-splaining. If they don’t react I say that they’re ignoring me/us because of their privilege.

It is sophistry: Heads, they lose. Tails, they lose.

But… The system stays the same. No one grows. No one learns. No new connections are formed. No compassion granted. None given in return.

Well, I don’t say that all Muslims need to change because of the actions of the militants who decide to kill. (Though I do try to encourage that they live-and-let-live more loudly).

And I don’t say that all White Americans deserve to feel guilty because of the actions of police officers, but I do encourage them to take on the system and challenge their own default perceptions.

Some White Americans will read Matti’s piece and experience guilt, as we see in the comments. Others will blame a system they didn’t choose, and accept no personal blame for it, and move on to the next article. I can’t say that they are totally wrong to feel this way.

Most discussions of privilege qualify as half-truth at best. And the act of name-calling detracts from the goal of offering an opportunity to reflect and change and act. It detracts from enrollment.

Enrolling Everyone

> Why should “white Americans” be included in a struggle that only people of color, especially Blacks are engaged in everyday?

Why do straight people go march in the pride parades? Why do Christians speak out in defense of Muslims after a deadly attack?



The best within us.

Squelching racism and changing the system needs to happen diligently and on all levels of society. Your words.

They are good words.

We, who care enough to combat racism, should be enrolling everyone to challenge their own racism and to care enough to work to change the unjust outcomes in the system.

Some people will need to be convinced that it is urgent and actionable to join the cause. This is why I made my suggestion in the first comment. I stand by my choice.

Matti’s voice reaching across all divides will be stronger than mine because her struggle is not one I am engaged in everyday.


You are as thought provoking as ever, Mr. Clay Rivers. I don’t expect you to agree with everything I have said. Ultimately, that’s what’s interesting about discussion.

I hope you can grant to my bits of writing the kind of open acceptance that you grant to Miss Matti’s original piece. These are my authentic responses and they come from what I hope are the best parts within me. I have no intent to shut anyone down.

I know I am not neutral, but hopefully you won’t mind if I take your advice also and write “whatever I want in any way that I want for whatever purposes I choose” as well.

If The Antidote To Rage Includes Compassion and Empathy...

Following is a reply I made on Medium on the topics of race, unequal protection of fundamental rights, whether our fundamental American values are to be vilified as lies or half-truths.

I like what I wrote so I am reposting it below.

…watching the lie (“America is a free country!” + “Liberty and justice for all!”) that aids many white Americans in ignoring our struggle entirely is equally painful and infuriating.

But this section where she talks about “watching the lie”, suggests who her core audience is not: white Americans. And I think that is a harmful choice if you don’t like the way things are. You won’t change the system unless you enroll some of them to the cause.

Why do I say that Matti specifically excludes white Americans? Because of her use of active voice: “white Americans **ignore** our struggle”.

My opinion: You can’t observe “ignoring”. But you can observe “inaction”.

Another opinion: Just as I cannot look at Matti’s article and know her full intent in writing it, she cannot look at inaction and determine the intent of white Americans.

Per the top hit on my google search, America in 2016 is:

  • 62% White
  • 18% Hispanic
  • 12% Black
  • 6% Asian

I will wager that the level of **inaction** in regards to the struggle of black people is about equal for all of the non-black categories: White, Asian, Hispanic. I don’t think that Asians, Hispanics, or Whites deserve special blame for **ignoring** the equal protection of the fundamental rights of Black Americans.

So in regards to calling out white Americans specifically, saying that they “ignore” actively is a provocative generalization which undermines the strength of any communication. It creates an opportunity to dismiss her writing as biased in spite of the many truths within. And we cannot begin to think about modifying the system without enrolling a large chunk of that 62%.

If the antidote to rage includes compassion and empathy, here are some things I notice about people, no matter what their race:

  • They feel fundamentally unable to change the system and, even though it is clearly not designed for Black Americans, it is also not designed for anyone who doesn't happen to be wealthy enough to buy a legislator.
  • They are, daily, fighting through struggles of their own. They have to pick their battles. They may not have chosen ours. (And if we think they ought to, it is up to us to persuade them to do so, taking full responsibility for the outcome.).
  • They have limited attention spans and **ignore** most of everything that goes on around them because that’s one of the key functions of their brains in order to manage all there is to notice.

These are true for whites as much as anyone else. It’s true for Muslims. It’s true for gays.

We are all human. Most of us are more worried about the world than we admit.

Most of us are too caught up in some kind of game, trying to learn and cope with rules for a game we didn’t choose but started playing somehow anyway.

Most of us never even ask if the game is worth playing.

Most of us don’t even notice that we’re playing a game.

A final opinion — This is the real battle: We’re not trying to get people to stop ignoring injustice, we’re trying to get them to notice it. To understand the importance of turning their attention toward fighting it in spite of their own pressing struggles. To take the time to patiently talk and come up with ideas about where to begin. To craft a long-term vision which will inspire persistent action.

Speaking Softly About Rape

A woman has been raped. Everyone knows the name of the assailant: Brock Turner. And the discussion following has been touching and shocking all at the same time.

What follows are my thoughts about what I have seen online.

In case anything I write below creates a doubt, and I wouldn't write that unless I have seen some serious grandstanding and moralizing (and un-friendings) going on, lets establish some of my positions:

  • Brock Turner is a rapist and he should be going to prison for as long as the law permits.
  • The fact that the victim got so drunk that she became unconscious doesn't justify any part of his despicable action, no matter how many minutes were involved.
  • The Victim deserves no shame at all for what happened.

Okay... let's talk about this.

A Measured Voice

One voice that is measured is the voice of the victim, who has elected not to have her name splattered all over the media. I respect that decision. I'll humanize her by calling her "Victoria".

I have read the full text of Victoria's statement to the court and to her assailant. I was moved by its graphic visuals of the scene in the hospital following her shocking awakening to discover that her head was strapped to a gurney and she had no idea where she was or why she had pine needles in her hair. What followed was the alienating indignity of having her body further probed for documentation.

And as if all of that isn't enough, she has to deal with the aftermath of all of this in her head. And she has to figure out how to continue living her life without breaking down and without flying into a rage. And she and her boyfriend have to deal with an alien new reality.

When it comes down to it, there is no price that can be paid to settle this debt by the rapist, Brock Turner. There's no way to get square again. And frankly, he owes her a serious apology and one that is not diluted by the long filibuster that is in his full statement.

What You Are Not Permitted to Mention

I read the Victoria's statement and I think I "get it". I think she used every bit of her will to summon love in her heart to have written so patiently. I am moved and inspired to the full possibilities of the best version of myself.

But then I open the BookFace and I find I am assaulted repeatedly by reposts and words from people I know which seek to impose constraints upon what we are allowed to say aloud and what certain words mean. It's feels like I am being shouted down when I haven't even said anything.

And the conclusion I am left with is that I am someone who doesn't "get it".

We are apparently not allowed to talk about how it is inadvisable to get drunk. Don't even think about it, the assailant named it as the primary contributing factor for him. The fact of a woman being drunk, even to the point of passing out, is not justification for rape, says practically everyone knowing fully that they have the truth on their side.

I don't disagree but that doesn't mean we aren't talking past one another here. If we consider the many factors that are ingredients in this terrible, horrible, unspeakable incident there are two that things that specific people could have done differently that would have changed the situation:

  • Brock Turner could have acted like a gentleman
  • Victoria could have consumed less (or no) inebriating substance

One might be tempted to make the case that I am a heartless and cruel human being who is giving moral shelter to the assailant and re-victimizing the victim if I mention the second point.

But if there are multiple factors that could have been changed to nudge the situation, why not permit ourselves to reconsider them all? After all, any incident is a function of its contributing factors.

This is an idea that is hammered in motorcycle safety class. They present to you multiple scenarios where a crash occurs, and in each one you are required to identify the reasons a crash occurred. The object lesson is that most crashes happen because of a complex of reasons and rarely because of one single cause.

I think we are doing a disservice to Victoria and to this entire discussion if we choose to ignore that "opportunity" is a contributing factor to crime. And the rapist Brock Turner would have had much less opportunity when faced with a sober woman with her full wits about her, resisting with everything she had.

I wish so much for her that she could have resisted. And for this reason, I wish that people didn't drink when they party.

I don't think it justifies Brock Turner's act of rape to say that. I don't think it has to mean that we hold him with any less blame.


But as you can see, I have to speak very carefully in order to say that.

There is something going on in the broader culture around rape. I would call it a campaign to educate except for the sensation of being SHOUTED DOWN BY PEOPLE YELLING AT THE TOP OF THEIR LUNGS!!!

From what I can gather, the shouting is way of reacting meaningfully in the aftermath of a senseless tragedy that we do not wish to compound by minimizing the victim's choices as well. The shouting is a ham-fisted attempt at unequivocal expression of solidarity with Victoria and vocal opposition to the tendency to blame the victim and to show them less support than they deserve.

I think the motivation is noble but the methods are off-putting.

It feels to me like we are trying so hard to control the thoughts of the people around us. We are telling the others around us what to think, and in what exact words. And more importantly, we are making decisions about what must NEVER be thought or said following a rape incident and that we will bring shame down upon anyone who dares to use the forbidden words.

Well, I have to be honest: I shut down when I read words that come on too strong with the thought policing and shaming. And I don't feel good about these interactions. I think that online discussion has the capacity to make us better when we are able to put our ideas together. But it's not the case when faced with this ugly feeling of being shouted down. It isn't the online experience I want to have and it's probably not what you're after either.

Well... Part of the beauty of our age is that we each have our own space to write what we notice. We all have the chance to write the Internet we would like to read. And, hopefully I have written this without shouting and without giving moral cover to Turner.

Speaking Softly

Please take this to heart: When we say things softly and with a heart full of love, we can trust that we will be heard.

We have a term for the experience of reading or hearing something that makes sense: it "resonates". I like to visualize the words echoing softly in the heart and mind of the reader/listener.

We can choose unilateral disarmament. We can choose to speak softly and trust the echoes to make sensible new ideas a part of the way we think and live. And maybe if we do this consistently, we will finally get to have the online experience we desire: sharing ideas, connecting people, and changing things for the better.

Think Bigger

To Victoria

I hear you. I am so sorry for what has happened to you. And, I hope you know that you have touched me with your strength and your compassion.

You are connecting people and changing things for the better. Thank you.

Can You Hear Me Now? (Entitlement and Feeling Heard)

A standard pattern for "how to take criticism" and "how to deal with conflict" generally acknowledges that we ought to listen and acknowledge and that people tend to ease up once they feel they have been heard.

An anti-pattern occurs when you feel that you must be heard in order to ease up. In my experience, when I want to be heard, I will tend to feel angry and upset if a difficult conversation drags on and I have not arrived at feeling heard and acknowledged.

It isn't pretty and I'm just going to call this out for what it is. In a moment like that, if my focus is on being heard, I have adopted a posture of entitlement. I am acting entitled to being heard and acknowledged and requiring that it occur in a manner that I recognize as authentic. Yuck!

It's so fascinating to me that the very same thing that is effective when granted to another with generosity, listening and making it clear that you have heard them, is ineffective when I desire (or expect) the same for myself.

Let's consider what happens when two parties in a difficult discussion both think that it's important to hear what the other side has to say, but neither party wants to be the first to listen. Those discussions go nowhere. They go in circles. They maximize suffering for all involved.

The standard pattern works only when granted to others because, in order to break up the log-jam, Leaders have to go first. We, as Leaders, must take the responsibility to act on this understanding that conversations go badly when no one wants to listen first. We have to act on our desire to minimize the conversations that feel pointless and upsetting.

And as for whether we are heard at all, that must be left to trust that we will get to say our piece after the other party has spoken about their concerns and had them acknowledged.

On Absolutes

Extremism is rarely the thing we need.

Absolutes let us off the hook, because they demand not to be negotiated. But absolutes usually bump into special cases that are truly hard to ignore…

-Seth Godin, At the edges, it all falls apart

I generally consider myself an absolutist with a set of fundamental priciples that are not to be violated. But this claim is subject to verification.

I certainly think the list of absolutes we hold should be short and subject to modification based on the incorporation of new data.

Whatever we believe, we have to admit that there are times when absolutes serve us well, and there are times when we are blindsided by unexpected implications. They always seem to face the special case challenges that Godin talks about above.

Maybe they are contextually helpful but not categorically so.

An absolute right to life?

You end up with the abortion debate. You end up with debate on the morality of the death penalty. Do animals have rights?

If rights are derived, as Ayn Rand suggests, from the requirement to exercise one’s reason in order to determine how to act to sustain one's existence… does a mentally crippled human being have exactly the same right to life in the same context?

Do two people battling over water rights where one is dumping waste and the other is drawing water to drink have an obvious solution answered by an absolute right? First come first served?

There are more questions than answers. And more pragmatic answers than principled ones. And in some contexts, the pragmatic answers may be measurably more just or generous.

An absolute right to free speech?

Consider Edward Snowden. Consider the caricature of yelling “fire” in a crowded room with tiny exits guarded by Nazis with submachineguns.

An absolute right to privacy?

An innocent person is suspected to have information pertaining to a missing-person-slash-murder investigation. Do the police have a right to the data on his/her electronic devices?

What I Notice That Absolutes Actually Do

What I notice about absolutes is that they help us to notice a situation where grave injustice may occur. The desire to impose an absolute indicates an area of grave importance.

Absolutes reduce cognitive load. A person thinking in principles can keep fewer "things" in mind at a time when trying to make a decision.

We use absolutes to communicate and express what is important with a lot of poetic license. The tendency is to hear what is said and to suspend disbelief. This occurs in any echo-chamber.


We also use absolutes to avoid communicating in the raw detail of a topic. Moral grandstanding is good example of this. Think about how impossible it is to have an honest conversation that doesn't get dragged fully into the weeds on any of these topics: Racism, Sexism, Islamism, pay inequality, affordable medical care, immigration, or Abortion.

In light of this, I suspect that we might do well to rewire ourselves so that when we find that the thing we most want to say is an absolute principle therefore a change in policy that we remember that great care is needed… the best and clearest thinking you can muster will be needed in order to be able to engage in honest conversation and/or decision-making.

Absolutes and Policy

In my observation, most human beings do a pretty poor job of thinking through the long-term implications of applying broad principles. Some of us can do this well in certain contexts but with small contextual changes, we start showing gaps in our logic.

Human beings get bogged down when multiple principles interact in a dynamic system.

And human beings are especially bad at predicting behavior in such a system while they are driven by their own panic in response to what seems like a crisis.

Conclusion: We are wise to avoid making broad changes in policy while in a panicked response. Let’s just wait until we are calm to review the situation and decide how to respond.

…The good middles, the difficult compromises that matter, that’s where we can build things that have long lasting impact.

We need a compass and a place to go. But the road to that place is rarely straight and never absolute.

-Seth Godin, At the edges, it all falls apart