David French on Racial Empathy
June 6, 2020 10:25 am
UPDATE: David himself wrote about what I describe below, and does so more eloquently than I could ever do.
The death of George Floyd, at the hands (and knees) of Minneapolis police, was a spark that has lit protests around the world. These protests have varying themes, but most are either against excessive police brutality or “systemic racism.” On the latter - note the scare quotes - many white people believe that this is not the case, as they harbor no racial animus themselves, nor do they know anyone who does. How can people with dark skin look at a system and cry “racism” if we can’t see it?
This is where David French can help us. David has a broad base of experience, from time in Iraq as a military attorney, as lead counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, as a longtime contributor at National Review, to being one of the founding writers at The Dispatch. He has also raised his biological children and an adopted child of African descent, which I did not know before the discussion I’m about to describe.
The Dispatch has been doing “Dispatch Live” events for its members, and the one this past Thursday is the genesis of this post. David, Steve Hayes, Jonah Goldberg, and Sarah Isgur were discussing the disconnect I described above, how people’s observations and claimed experiences could be so different. They asked David abount his experience, and if there was a way we could think about it. What follows is my paraphrase of his point (even though it’s in a block quote to set it off from my own thoughts).
Grant the following two assumptions:
- First, assume that 1 in 10 white people is racist.
- Second, assume that these 1-in-10 people know that their views are unwelcome by the other 9, so they don’t ever give any indication of their racist views.
This means that, as white people, we don’t know any racists (technically, we don’t know that we know any racists). But, as a black person, every tenth white person you meet treats you poorly.
I thought that this was profound, as a great way to understand someone else’s lived experience. And, the principle holds even if you want to say that the ratio is more like 1:100 - especially when the consequences of that one interaction could leave you in George Floyd’s current state.