Common White Fallacy #6: Unfalsifiable belief systems about race

A common fallacy of white people is to have a belief system about a non-white racial or ethnic group that cannot be falsified. Wikipedia defines falsifiability as follows:

Falsifiability (or “refutability”) is the logical possibility that an assertion can be shown false by an observation or a physical experiment. That something is “falsifiable” does not mean it is false; rather, that if it is false, then this can be shown by observation or experiment.

In other words, it is not uncommon for a white person to have an unfalsifiable belief system about race, and when shown evidence that refutes a held belief, the given white person engages in absurd rationalizations that “protects” the belief system from any possibility of refutability. For most white people, to be called racist entails being called a bad person, and since the self-concept of oneself as bad is unacceptable for most people, the given white person cannot accept the possibility that he is racist.

Often, the following scenario occurs:

  1. A white person believes some generalization about people of colour, i.e., all people of race R have property P.
  2. A person of colour of race R tells the white person that she does not have property P.
  3. The white person makes some accepting or concilliatory noises towards the person of colour, but then continues to believe that all people of race R have property P.

An example of this is when a white person makes the claim that all black people listen to rap music. If a black person says that she does not listen to rap (but listens to classical music instead, for example), the white person may accept the claim, but then rationalize, “but then you’re not really black.” This white person’s belief system about what kind of music all black people listen to becomes unfalsifiable, because if there is any black person who refutes the generalization, that person suddenly becomes “not black”, and the white person’s sweeping generalization is preserved.

Now this is a relatively obvious example. The white person will not always offer the rationalization that the person is “not really” a member of the group the white person generalized about. (This specific fallacy is known as the no true Scotsman fallacy.) Sometimes the white person will read the dissenting comment as an anomaly or even an alternative opinion that somehow does not interact with the validity of his generalization.*

Unfalsifiable belief systems are problematic, because they are prior assumptions that cannot be tested with reality. Of course, beliefs like “all people of race R have property of Pcan be tested and are falsifiable, but when the person who has the belief rejects any evidence that could possibility refute it, the person’s belief system is unfalsifiable and he cannot be reasoned with. Unfortunately, white people are often unconscious that they are making these kinds of invalid rationalizations to preserve their self-concept as a non-racist (or anti-racist) person.

Ironically, some of these white people believe that white people are more “rational” than non-white people when discussing race, because they are unable to see their own irrationality.

* This is also referred to as “not listening” to people of colour or not taking people of colour seriously.

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4 Responses to “Common White Fallacy #6: Unfalsifiable belief systems about race”

  1. scaryreasoner Says:

    That’s not what unfalsifiable means.

    The claim that “all black people listen to rap music” *is* falsifiable. All you have to do is produce one black person who doesn’t listen to rap music.

    That fact that someone stubbornly and idiotically refuses to admit that it’s been falsified does not mean it is not falsifiable, it means that person is an idiot.

    An unfalsifiable claim is a claim which cannot be tested.

    For example (from wikipedia) “it will be raining here in one million years” is (practically) unfalsifiable. Nobody making such a claim, nor anyone to who he’s making this claim will be around in a million years to know whether he’s correct or not.

    Your example is a better example of the “no true scotsman” fallacy, as in,: “no true black person fails to listen to rap music.”

  2. Restructure! Says:

    I did write:

    Of course, claims like “all people of race R have property of P” can be tested, but

    but you’re right that I’m not using exactly the right language. I will try to rephrase the post now, and mention the “no true scotsman” fallacy.

  3. Restructure! Says:

    I’ve updated the post now. Let me know if it is still incorrect or not-quite-correct. Mostly, I’ve changed “belief” to “belief system”.

    As for the “no true Scotsman” fallacy, it seems to be related to falsifiability, because the person’s personal definition of a Scotsman combined with the the claim itself together make the combination unfalsifiable. Let me know if falsifiability only applies to claims and if falsifiability is somehow independent of definitions used in the claim.

    “All souls are immortal” is unfalsifiable, because even if one could somehow test a soul for immortality, the definition of “soul” does not refer to anything in the physical world. Hence, it seems that definitions can affect the falsifiabiilty of a claim, and that the claim “all X are Y” is not necessarily falsifiable, such as when the person has a strange definition of X (such as defining a black person as a black person that necessarily listens to rap; the claim would then be a tautology).

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