Covert racism

I’ve been noticing a particular debate tactic lately that, once used, allows the user to claim victory based on nothing other than their claim.

A friend of mine insists that racism hasn’t gotten any better than it was decades ago. The fact that a black man was President of the United States for 2 terms doesn’t change that. The fact that Jim Crow laws don’t exist anymore doesn’t change that. What he insists is true is that most racism these days is hidden or covert, as opposed to seen, obvious, and overt.

If you express doubt as to whether this is true, he will tell you that you are part of the problem since you obviously don’t truly see or understand the problem. So either you believe that there is covert racism, or you harbor covert racism, even if you don’t realize you harbor it. You either recognize the problem, or you are the problem. But here’s the thing; his position is unfalsifiable. You can’t prove him wrong. No matter what you say, you reinforce his belief.

This is a logical fallacy, and I explore other examples of this.

Mentioned links:

Logical Fallacies

Politico’s tone-deaf, unhelpful cartoon about conservatives being rescued from Harvey by the government

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Show transcript

I’ve been noticing a particular debate tactic lately that, once used, allows the user to claim victory based on nothing other than their claim. I tried looking it up as a logical fallacy, but couldn’t find one (in my quick search).

First of all, what is a logical fallacy? It’s an attempt to prove using flawed reasoning, and they all have names.  If you argue that something is true because a particular smart person believes it’s true, that’s an Appeal to Authority. I’ve mentioned here a number of times the Straw Man Fallacy. That’s where you’re opponent misstates your position, making it weaker than it really is, and argues against the weaker position.

I tried to find something that matches what I’ve been seeing but I didn’t. Perhaps one of you can clue me in. In the meantime, I’m calling this the Secret Sin Fallacy. Let me give a couple examples of this

A friend of mine insists that racism hasn’t gotten any better than it was decades ago. The fact that a black man was President of the United States for 2 terms doesn’t change that. The fact that Jim Crow laws don’t exist anymore doesn’t change that. What he insists is true is that most racism these days is hidden or covert, as opposed to seen, obvious, and overt.

If you express doubt as to whether this is true, he will tell you that you are part of the problem since you obviously don’t truly see or understand the problem. So either you believe that there is covert racism, or you harbor covert racism, even if you don’t realize you harbor it. You either recognize the problem, or you are the problem. But here’s the thing; his position is unfalsifiable. You can’t prove him wrong. No matter what you say, you reinforce his belief.

Further, this allows him to claim that the problem (in this case, racism) is as large and as prevalent as he wishes it to be, because it’s all hidden, and in many cases, totally unknown to the racist. How do you argue against that?

Here’s another example. The presidency of Donald Trump has brought out a host of closet psychoanalysts. These are people who know what Trump really means when he says things. When he says things the Left would agree with, they assume he doesn’t really mean it. They insist they know what he really means, and there’s no way to prove them wrong. He can be as racist or xenophobic or whatever as they want him to be, because they know what he thinks secretly.

(OK, I will admit that Trump does himself no favors with some of the stuff he actually says out loud. And his defenders on the Right will sometimes say that he didn’t mean literally what he said; it was sarcasm or hyperbole. That’s actually true in many cases, but it still means that people feel free to assume themselves what he really meant. Again, not helping his cause a whole lot. This is probably not the best example, but you get the idea.)

What we wind up with are claims that are made for which there is no response possible. That’s not a conversation; that’s a monologue.

Another manifestation of this is a cartoon that came out recently regarding a stereotyping of Texans and Christians in the context of Hurricane Harvey.

The Politico website put out a political cartoon by Pulitzer Prize-winner Matt Wuerker showing a Texan being rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter. The man is surrounded by both a “Don’t Tread On Me” flag, and a Texas state flag with the word “Secede” on it. You get an impression of what this guy thinks. As he’s being taken up in a basket to the helicopter, he’s saying, “Angels! Sent by God!” And the Coast Guard guy, who is getting ready to save someone else on the rooftop, says, “Er, actually Coast Guard…sent by the government.”

This is a Secret Sin Fallacy on a number of levels. First, it shows what Wuerker thinks is going through the minds of Christians; that only God is saving them, and they ignore the human factor, or even the governmental factor. Christians, and religious people in general, understand that people often carry out God’s will, whether or not those people even believe in him at all.

Secondly, it shows what Wuerker thinks is going through the mind of conservatives; you know, those Tea Party types that like the “Don’t Tread On Me” Gadsden flag and are so big on states’ rights and secession. They may find this surprising, but those who advocate for smaller federal government don’t want zero federal government. They just want it kept in its proper areas; y’know, like those radical Founding Fathers wanted. There is a time and a place for a strong central government, and this is one of them. But I will also note that the state and local government, and the citizens, like the highly touted “Cajun Navy”, are playing a much bigger role than the feds.

Still, Wuerker knows what you rednecks really think, right? He knows what you are in secret, and there’s no way to convince them otherwise.

Oh, by the way, the Houston area went big for Hillary Clinton in the last election. Harris County went for Hillary by double-digits, and neighboring Fort Bend County was blue as well. The population of both combined is more than 5 million — about one-fifth of the entire state of Texas. Be careful of pointing your stereotypes at people, Mr. Wuerker. You might want to work on your aim. Apparently, not even a Pulitzer Prize helps with that.

Maybe this is actually a Begging the Question fallacy, where you assume the conclusion is true while it is also part of the argument, such as concluding that Donald Trump is racist, because he said something that you just know has racist intentions. Secretly. Covertly. Or maybe it’s some other fallacy. Who knows? Maybe you do.


And finally, Texas officials and insurance executives estimated Hurricane Harvey may have done at least sixty billion dollars’ worth of damage to the Gulf Coast. Argus Hamilton says that once flood damages make it into the trillions of dollars, they are going to start naming the hurricanes after Members of Congress.

Filed under: PartisanshipRace IssuesReligion