5 'Whataboutisms' About Racial Inequality & How to Counter Them

Following the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Tony McDade, protests calling for a reformed police force and change to combat structural racism have swept the country. In the United States, Black people have faced centuries of oppression, and these deaths and the resulting protests are a political issue.

Race can be a tricky topic to talk about with family and friends, especially if you’re privileged enough not to think about it all the time. It's difficult to share your concerns regarding racial inequality if those in your life don’t consider the Black Lives Matter movement a central issue. It’s even more difficult to point out potentially problematic or racist language when you aren’t completely sure what to say. However, it’s more important than ever to have frank conversations with the people in your life. To help guide you, here are a few ways to speak up if someone shares a problematic remark. 

“I think all lives matter.”

All lives cannot matter until Black lives matter. Saying that Black lives matter highlights the structural racism embedded in our country’s past and present history. It's not a term of confrontation, but a rallying cry hoping for a better future — because racist social and economic systems have disproportionately impacted Black communities with issues like police brutality, income gaps, lack of healthcare access, and economic injustices.

By saying that all lives matter, a person is drowning out the reality of racism and the individuals who experience it. 

“There are a lot of good cops out there.”

Sure, there are. But that's not the point. Is every single police officer to blame for the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd? The issue is the policing system in and of itself, because it allows officers to get away with crimes they would not be able to if they were ordinary citizens. Those who stand by and ignore these acts are part of the problem.

Police officers belong to a branch of law enforcement that does not have a redeeming history. Some of the first police officers in the South were used for slave patrol. Unless there are major reforms within police departments, then we continue to perpetuate a system that was built to discriminate against Black people. Any attempt to say that only some police officers are bad apples ignores the real issue of structural racism. 

“I don’t mind protests but looting and violence is wrong.”

Peaceful protests have occurred throughout the nation. In some cases, there are poorer people and white supremacists who will take advantage of protests. However, looting and violence is a symptom of the racism and police brutality that Black communities have experienced. It is happening because people are tired of police murder, and they are exercising what little power they have. In some cities, there has also been police brutality against peaceful protestors, forcing people to fight back for their own safety.

When someone expresses outrage over property damage, question if property is worth more than Black lives.

“They had a criminal record.”

According to crime statistics from Mapping Police Violence, Black people are three times more likely than white people to be killed by police, and more likely to be unarmed when they’re killed. Trayvon Martin was unarmed when he was shot and killed by George Zimmerman. He had no previous criminal history. Tamir Rice was just twelve years old and playing with a fake gun when Timothy Loehmann shot him. He had no previous criminal history.

The Houston Chronicle reported George Floyd had several brushes with the law, including an aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon charge in 2007, which resulted in a conviction and a five-year prison sentence. It is still unknown whether Floyd knew he was using a potentially counterfeit $20 bill. But personal history does not warrant death. Personal history does not erase the fact that there were only 27 days in 2019 when police didn't kill someone

“There is nothing wrong with our current system.”

This can be refuted by looking at crime statistics. Levels of violent crime in cities do not determine rates of police violence — that is, there is not necessarily more police violence in cities with more violent crime, suggesting that there is another reason for high levels of police violence. 

It's also worthwhile to read up on systemic racism and how it continues to pervade the United States today. Black people continue to be disproportionately less educated and make less money than white people. They are less likely to be homeowners, are more likely to be denied mortgages, and typically have higher-interest debt in entities like auto loans and credit cards. These are just a few of the inequalities that exist between races, though this is far from an exhaustive list. If you say there is nothing wrong with our current system, then you are being complacent in allowing these forms of structural racism to continue to exist.

Arguments surrounding racial inequality are never easy, especially if the individual you’re speaking with isn't open to other perspectives. But you shouldn’t let this discomfort get in the way of speaking up. 

Knowledge is power and history is one of the most important subjects out there — without it, you cannot begin to understand the past and reshape the future.