Common White Fallacies when Dealing with People of Colour

A white person needs to listen to the personal experiences of people of colour when they are under discussion. On the other hand, it is dangerous, and usually racist, to generalize from one or a handful of people of colour and make a general claim. These two statements do not contradict each other.

White people need to understand the basic structure behind first-order logic to avoid the errors of both (i) ignoring the voices of people of colour, and (ii) making generalizations about all people of colour based on the voices of some people of colour.

Errors in Making Generalizations about People of Colour

Fallacy: Confusing Existential Quantification for Universal Quantification (Interchangeable People of Colour)

The following reasoning is invalid:

A black person x thinks P.
Therefore, all black people think P.

This reasoning is invalid because black people are not interchangeable, and one (or any) black person is not the spokesperson for all black people. Just as with white people, black people are individuals and are diverse in thought, culture, appearance, and other properties.

Fallacy: Hasty Generalization

The following reasoning is invalid:

A black person x thinks P.
A black person y thinks P.
A black person z thinks P.
Therefore, all black people think P.

First of all, this argument is never deductively valid, no matter how large the sample size, unless the sample set is equivalent to the population set to which you want to generalize. Inductive reasoning is always deductively invalid. (Science and statistics use empirical observations to draw conclusions, but they are not making inductive arguments.*)

If, instead, the reasoner wants to make a statistical claim about the population of black people, then she may be committing a hasty generalization. The sample size may be too small, and even when the sample size is large enough, it may not be representative of the general population. For example, if you surveyed black people in certain areas of the Internet and found that most were gamers, it says nothing about black people in general.

Errors in Ignoring People of Colour

Fallacy: White is Right

The following reasoning is invalid:

A white person x thinks P.
A Chinese person y thinks not P.
Therefore, x is right and P is true.

This reasoning is invalid because a white person is not necessarily more rational than a Chinese person. Although Western culture identifies the West with rationality and logic, and the East with irrationality and superstition, this does not mean that it is true in reality. A white person is not necessarily correct when the opponent is a black person or any non-white person, either. If a person assumes that this is true, he has an implicit belief in “white supremacy”.

Fallacy: Appeal to White Belief

The following reasoning is invalid:

Most white people think P.
Most non-white people think not P.
There are more white people than non-white people (in the United States).
Therefore, P is true.

Appeal to White Belief is a racial form of the fallacious Appeal to Belief, which has the following form:

Most people believe that a claim, P, is true.
Therefore, P is true.

Appeal to White Belief and the more general Appeal to Belief are invalid because the fact that most people believe that something is true does not mean that is true. For example, if most white Americans believe that racism no longer exists in the United States, and most black Americans believe that racism still exists, then this does not mean that the whites are objective and the blacks have a persecution complex. Appeal to White Belief may appear together with the “White is Right” fallacy.

Fallacy: My Black Friend Agrees With Me

The following reasoning is invalid:

A black person w agrees with me.
A black person x agrees with me.
A black person y disagrees with me.
A black person z disagrees with me.
Therefore, y and z are wrong and stupid.

Sometimes the number of black people who disagree with the white person in question is larger than the number of black people who agree with him, and the white person still thinks that those who disagree with him do not count because they disagree. This reasoning is fallacious, because the fact that one or some black people agree with the white person does not entail that those are the “good blacks” and the rest are the “bad blacks” who are wrong and stupid. The blacks who agree with the white person may agree with him because they are different demographically from those who disagree, or their social position may hinge on being agreeable to whites.

For an example of demographic differences, Oprah Winfrey may think that any black person from the ghetto can become rich if she tried, but Oprah is of the demographic of black billionaires who started off poor, which is not representative of the general black demographic.

It is more difficult to give a concrete example of the fragile social position situation, because it posits that the agreeable blacks have or are influenced by an ulterior motive. However, this sometimes happens, as being outwardly agreeable towards authority figures is not uncommon for humans in general. (For example, you may outwardly ‘agree’ with your boss about something and your boss may believe that you truly agree with her, but your desire for job security may or may not have influenced your behaviour.) Whether or not this is true for a given situation depends on the individual situation.

In any case, the truth or falsity of your belief is not determined by the fact that some black people agree with you, or the number of people who agree with you, even if more black people agree with you than disagree. This is a variation of the “Appeal to Belief” discussed above. In the “My Black Friend Agrees With Me” fallacy, the fact that the blacks who agree with the white person are favoured over those who disagree may be influenced by the “White is Right” fallacy as well.

This reasoning is fallacious even when you substitute any non-white racial group for ‘black’. Whites should not ignore or dismiss non-white voices just because they disagree. Any criticism should be considered and evaluated seriously.

* Karl Popper‘s account of falsification is a more accurate picture of how the scientific method works, although Thomas Kuhn’s picture is more accurate than Popper’s, and others have criticized Kuhn, etc. A full explanation is much too complicated and is irrelevant to this post. The point here is that claiming that inductive logic is invalid is not the same as a criticism of science, statistics, or empiricism in general. Science, statistics, and empirical methods are very good ways of gathering knowledge.