derailment [n]: a defensive argument, statement, or question that dismisses or seeks to undermine anti-racist arguments in an effort to preserve privilege or the status quo
As we’ve been going through these derailments over the last couple months, I have been thinking about them as one long drawn-out discussion, much like those I’ve had with friends and family in the past. As I talk through some of these issues with folks, I often find that the other person gets increasingly worn down with every rebuttal, going deeper into their pockets to find any argument that will prevent them from actually having to do anything. It can be a lonely trip, sitting there after an hour of discussion, fishing for excuses. Today’s derailment inevitably reaches the surface at some point.
I recently had such a conversation with a person online. We were writing back and forth and continually this person tried to divert our conversation about white privilege and anti-racism by saying something along the lines of, “Why are you so focused on these ills in our society when there are worse problems elsewhere? Why aren’t you going after Saudi Arabia, etc. for male privilege?”
My initial response was that just because things are bad in other places doesn’t mean things are fine here. There are always going to be places in the world that make America look like a city on a hill (yet the converse is also true).
As for Saudi Arabia, etc., I do have intense disdain for any society that disregards and disrespects women. But we weren’t talking about Saudi Arabia! We were talking about the problems we face in the good ol’ U.S. of A.
This “what about the other guy” is a classical example of a logical red herring:
A “red herring” is a deliberate attempt to divert a process of inquiry by changing the subject.
The whole “Saudi Arabia sucks worse” argument is a criminally commonplace racist defense.
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By comparing our sins to those of others’, we can always make ourselves feel better. But in truth, we are no better for having made the comparison because the moral standard is not set by the other guy’s behavior. In two different Gospels, Jesus says,
how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.-Matthew 7:4-5 (second reference Luke 6:41-42)
Sure, there’s racism, sexism, oppression and innumerable unjust asymmetrical power structures throughout our world. I say let’s take them all on. But let’s not seek to justify our own sins in the process.