The following is based mainly on “Social Justice, Multicultural Counseling, and Practice” (2010) by Heesoon Jun:
Dichotomous thinking is either-or thinking. It sees the world as either-or opposites:
- good or evil,
- right or wrong,
- straight or gay,
- white or black,
- male or female,
- civilized or savage,
- rational or irrational,
- sane or mad,
- mind or body,
- winner or loser,
- capitalist or communist,
- free or slave,
- modern or backwards,
- rich or poor
It is the main thought pattern among White Americans. You see it in their foreign policy, films, ideas of beauty – and even in their Internet comments. It is also found in Europe. Black Americans, meanwhile, favour diunital (both-and) thinking.
White Americans add hierarchical thinking to it. That turns these pairs into good/bad opposites, where the bad is something to avoid, overcome, control or even destroy.
It leads to a profound ethnocentrism. White American culture reads itself as being at the good end of all these good/bad opposites. So it sees itself not as some accident of history, but what all of history has been leading to! It is universal, it is what people all over the world deep down want! America’s high immigration rate proves it!
This leads to a save-the-world mindset, as post-colonialist thinker Homi Bhabha points out. That in turn leads to imperialism, the white man’s burden, White Saviour films, Bush “saving” Iraq and Bono “saving” Africa.
Studies have shown that dichotomous and hierarchical thinking is highly correlated with racism. If “white is right” then, according to this style of thinking, black must be bad and shameful and screwed up:
- If White English is proper, then Black English must be improper.
- If white women are beautiful, then black women must be ugly.
- If white people are nice, then black people must be ill-mannered.
- If white people are trustworthy, then black people are not.
Different is not just different: different is bad!
It also determines how whites think about racism itself:
- Since racism is “bad” and since “white is right”, mainstream White American culture cannot possibly be racist – just maybe whites in the South or in the working-class or in the 1950s or in the Klan.
- Most whites seem to think the answer to racism is to “not see colour”, to not see any differences. But it is this different-is-bad thinking that led to racism in the first place! And which colour-blindness leaves untouched.
This style of thinking is a big reason why white commenters repeatedly misread my posts – even after I point out their mistakes. Examples of their dichotomous misreadings:
- “White people” means “all white people”.
- “White people did something terrible” means “white people are evil through and through, every single one of them, and are the only evil people in all of history.”
- “You said something racist” means “You are a terrible person.”
Dichotomous and hierarchical thinking came to America from England in the 1600s. Back then the English saw the Irish as the despised other. When they arrived in North America they quickly saw American Indians and blacks in that same light.