The “not all whites” argument is a common straw man argument on this blog. I will make some statement about whites and then be informed that “not all whites” are like that, that they are Individuals. Like there is some special rule of English that “whites” always means “all whites”. Even when I say “some whites” or “most whites” it can still be taken to mean “all whites” – since clearly I only put in those words as a cheap trick to fool people.
In America, according to the government numbers, whites are supposedly better at reading than blacks. I would never know that from this blog: Only rarely do black commenters seriously misunderstand me while it is quite common for whites. And this imagined “all” before “whites” – which is not in any grammar book I know of – is one of the main causes.
Example: When I say, “Whites owned slaves” it hardly means they all owned slaves. As far as I know no more than 2% of White Americans ever did. Yet that does not make the statement untrue or meaningless. Because quantity is not the issue – it was never stated. To make quantity the issue is a derailment. To assume it means “All whites owned slaves” is putting words in my mouth and creating a straw man argument.
Side note: On this blog, unless it is otherwise clear, “white” mostly means just White Americans, though most of what I say seems to apply to English-speaking whites in general.
Since the “all whites” thing is not in any grammar book I wonder where it comes from. The best reason I have heard so far is that many White Americans use dichotomous thinking, seeing things as either-or. That means it is easy for them to think of whites as either being all the same or all Unique Individuals Unaffected by Race or Culture, leaving little middle ground between the two extremes.
So if I say “whites are racist” it is taken to mean that all whites are racist and racist in the same way. As if I said, “All whites are skinhead racists.” But what is in my head is a range:
- from skinhead racists
- to Jim Crow racists
- to scientific racists
- to “The Bell Curve” sorts
- to black pathologists
- to white Republicans
- to ordinary colour-blind racists
- to white liberal racists
- to white anti-racist racists
- to those souls who are not racist at all
- to those who fought against the slave trade
- to the white Freedom Riders
- to John Brown
– and much more besides.
I know whites are individuals. I live in a country that is mostly white. I have to deal with whites at work. I watch American film and television where whites are given whole story lines complete with a love life, where they are almost never reduced to stereotypes as whites.
So I expect them to be individuals. Which makes it all the more surprising and interesting to me when they do seem to act from a hive mind.