By Sonali Deliwala
Written on 6/21/20
While our President’s Tweet refers to the aggression faced by a white man, its figurative implications aptly capture the narrative of discrediting suppressed minorities in America: it substantiates claims that the suffering of Black people for centuries is greater and disproportional and exaggerated in comparison to the magnitude of injustice that they have endured; that their continued suffering is a result of their “laziness” or “complacency” or “inaction” or, perhaps the worst label of all, their natural predisposition; that their lived experience of oppression is more Black people’s fault than America’s wrongdoing.
It’s the blame game, essentially. It’s America’s mechanism for saving face.
See, America benefits, or at least partially exempts itself, by employing this rhetoric. By pointing at negative characteristics and natural predispositions, this narrative dilutes the severity of the injustices that our country has committed. If Black people’s reaction to oppression is construed as greater than America’s oppressive forces, then the blame falls on the Black community more so than on the social, legal, and economic systems of this country. If the Black community “fell harder” than “was pushed,” it’s their fault that the odds are stacked against them—they’re more responsible for the perpetuation of their own suffering.
There’s an inherent, maddening assumption in this quote that the degree to which the protester “fell” should be commensurate to the force with which he was “pushed.” Fitting this analogy to the systemic oppression of Black people in America, it strongly implies that there’s some expected amount of suffering that the community should experience. Anything more than that is an exaggeration, an overstatement, an unwarranted cry from the Black community for recognition, attention, and sympathy.
How can one quantify and assign magnitude to systemic oppression, to the “pushing” down and marginalization of a community? How can one compare this “number” to the “amount” of persecution and injustice that the Black community has faced? Our President’s speculation suggests that the consequences of oppression and the extent of oppressive forces are (and should be) comparable in a numeric sense, which reduces the history of Black suffering to a quantity that can be remedied, to an easily identifiable, readily “solvable,” singular, uniform problem, implying that there’s a clear path towards mitigating its painful, immeasurable consequences. A number cannot begin to encompass the various forms, extent, and centuries of suffering that characterizes Black oppression in America.
And there’s another fallacy which, perhaps more subtly, lies in this quote: that there’s some amount of Black people’s suffering which America’s systems of oppression is not responsible for. Remember, Trump’s Tweet served to excuse the violent actions of the police—to dismiss the severity of the protester’s injury and minimize the damage caused by the police. That Black people “fell harder” than they were “pushed” because, what, gravity had a larger effect on them? Because they were predisposed to? Because they didn’t try hard enough to stop falling? When we take these arguments, which are commonly used by conservatives and those who denounce the validity of systemic racism, and we apply them to the President’s rationale regarding the fallen protester, they seem ludicrous. And yet, many Americans buy this logic—that there’s some other self-inflicting reason for the suffering of Black communities. In turn, the rhetoric creates the desired gray area: now there’s no clear justification for Black suffering—maybe it was a result of systemic racism and oppression, or maybe not. Maybe our institutions are responsible, or maybe not. To me, this is the most potent and damning rhetoric, because it fundamentally questions the validity of Black suffering. It challenges the credibility of systemic racism.
Okay, so maybe we expect all this from our President, given his infamous record. But how does this blame game take place in our everyday conversations?
I was recently engaged in a heated text conversation with a friend who said that more Black people are incarcerated simply because they commit more crime—as if crime is something they are predisposed towards. There’s a clear implication here—that it’s okay that Black people disproportionately populate American prisons and jails. This statement substantiates the idea that there’s some amount of Black suffering that America’s racist criminal justice systems are not responsible for—an issue that the community faces independently and unrelated to the racism in our criminal justice racism: police bias, discrimination in arrests, and harsher sentencing.
Statements like these are clear manifestations of the bias and racism that continue to exist in our society. Their dangerous (and outrageous) implications serve as an extension of America’s self-redeeming rhetoric. We must call people out when we hear this. We must make light of the assumptions that follow from these misconceptions. We must be sure to fiercely and passionately reject the idea that systematically oppressed minorities in our country have fallen harder than they were pushed.