Fallacy: Making moral judgements about ethnic minorities based on the actions of foreigners.

If you condemn people of ethnicity P who live in your country based on the actions of foreigners of ethnicity P living in a different country, your reasoning is illogical. At a basic level, this is fallacious because

  • If individual x has property P and individual y also has property P, one cannot conclude that x = y.
  • If individual x has property P and individual y also has property P, one cannot conclude that if x has some property Q, y also has property Q.

In the ethnicity example, if a foreigner x of ethnicity P in a different country participates in action Q that is morally questionable, one cannot condemn a minority y in your country for action Q simply because that individual is also of ethnicity P.

For example, if a Muslim in a Western country complains that her rights were violated by the state, it is illogical to argue that this individual is being hypocritical because the laws in Saudi Arabia are worse in terms of human rights violations. Here, the individual y who complained about the violation is not necessary the person x who carried out a human rights violation, even though both x and y have property P, being Muslim. Furthermore, it is not the case that if some w has property P and property Q, all z who have property P also have property Q.

At a second level, this reasoning is fallacious because it assumes that minorities of ethnicity P in countries like the United States and Canada are representative of people of ethnicity P living in countries where ethnicity P is the majority. This is often not the case, as those who choose to immigrate to a Western country tend to be sympathetic towards Western values, and may even be escaping persecution from their original country. Cuban Americans on average tend to be anti-communist despite or perhaps because of the fact that Cuba is a communist country. Iranian Americans on average tend to be actively against Muslim fundamentalism despite or because of Iran having a Muslim fundamentalist government. Making generalizations about ethnic minorities based on foreigners living in a different country is simply ignorant, and often ironic.

At a third level, this reasoning is racist because it assumes that Canadian-born Canadians and American-born Americans of Asian, Middle Eastern, or Latino descent are somehow “the same as” or interchangeable with foreigners. This is known as the “perpetual foreigner” stereotype. For example, the tastes, culture, and politics of a fourth-generation American of Asian descent are often inferred from the tastes, culture, and politics of her ancestral country instead of her native country and country of origin, the United States. On the other hand, the tastes, culture, and politics of a second-generation American of Western European descent are assumed to be American. The perception of foreignness when it comes to native-born North Americans of Asian, Middle Eastern, or Latino descent is almost always a result of racial prejudices rather than the “culture” manifested by these individuals.

Related webpages:

  • Asian Americans and the Perpetual Foreigner Syndrome by Frank H. Wu – An analysis and history of the perpetual foreigner syndrome as it relates to Asian Americans, explaining why it is racist and making references to “color-blindness”, color-consciousness, and the reality of participating in racial discrimination without being mindful of it.
  • “Asking Permission” by X. Dean Lim – Humourous video about equating “Asian” with “foreign”. Rather than the reverse situation shown in this thought experiment, in practise, there are more situations where an Asian American is alone and under the scrutiny of the white American majority, so social pressure usually works against him.
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