Can We Pull Back From The Brink?

Speaking of things you should listen to, and in the interests of exploring challenging points of view, I’ve just finished the latest episode of Sam Harris’ podcast “Making Sense”. Given current events it won’t surprise you to hear that it’s about the murder of George Floyd and the ongoing debate on racism and police brutality in America. But Sam comes at it from an angle which few have had the knowledge or the courage to approach it from.

As he recognises, many of the things he says will be controversial purely by virtue of the fact that he’s a white man speaking on the topic of race. In fact it’s worse than that; he’s a rich, white, middle-aged, cishet male. Some of his arguments run so counter to the feelings and intuitions we have after watching yet another black man die on our screens, that it’s tempting to dismiss him precisely because he is those things. But to do so would be a disservice to a genuine attempt to have a real conversation about the topic at hand.

I don’t agree with everything Sam says here, but I do think he hits the nail directly on the head when describing what true progress on the problem of racism would look like. Namely, that “more and more people, and ultimately all people, would care less and less, and ultimately not at all, about race.”

He goes on to make the point more eloquently:

How many blondes got into Harvard this year? Does anyone know? What percentage of the police in San Diego are brunette? Do we have enough redheads in senior management in our Fortune 500 companies?

No-one is asking these questions, and there’s a reason for that; no-one cares. And we are right not to care. Imagine a world in which people cared about hair colour to the degree that we currently care, or seem to care…about skin colour.

It’s undeniable that there are people on all sides of the issue who through anger, hatred or their own racism, are actively working against the goal of creating a society like the one described above. But it should be obvious that as long as skin colour matters, to any of us, racism will never end.

There’s a difficult balance to strike here. Representation matters, history matters, and we can’t simply decide that skin colour doesn’t matter whilst living in a society where it clearly does. But if we want that to change, we have to be willing to recognise that anger, however justified, won’t solve this problem. Dismissing the opinions of people who are the wrong colour won’t solve this problem. Refusing to engage with dissenting opinions won’t solve this problem.

We need to talk, and now more than ever, we need to listen.