“Playing devil’s advocate” means taking the opposing point of view for the sake of argument. It is used to test arguments, to debate an issue.
It is also something the privileged do when talking to the marginalized about their marginalization, like when White Americans talk about racism.
The term devil’s advocate comes from the Catholic Church. A devil’s advocate was someone who took the devil’s side, so to speak, in arguing against whether someone should be declared a saint. A big part of that was questioning the reported miracles.
White Americans who play devil’s advocate do the same thing in discussions about racism. Racism must be proved beyond a shadow of a doubt. As if in a country like the US, with a long history of racism, such an event would be that unbelievable. Like the miracle of a saint or something.
Playing devil’s advocate allows Whites to defend their own white privilege as if all they care about is the truth, objectivity, “debating the issues”, testing ideas and so on. It is what I have called Bogus White Objectivity.
It is not a true objectivity or search for truth because they rarely play devil’s advocate against their own privilege.
They minutely examine what people of colour and White allies say, trying to find holes in it, knock it down, “test” it. Fair enough. But when a White or whitewashed person makes a racist argument, they fall silent (unless the argument is particularly brainless). Only what opposes their privilege is “tested”. Thus their “objectivity”, thus their thirst for truth.
It seems like an act, like they are being disingenuous or wilfully obtuse, but they might be so sunk into a white privilege mindset that they regard it as a neutral, fair-minded point of view.
Playing devil’s advocate allows them to:
- Distance themselves from their own privilege – while supporting it the whole time!
- Paint those who object to their presence as enemies of truth, objectivity, open discussion, new ideas, balance – while they themselves repeat like sheep the Standard Lies that American society is built on. They bring no new ideas, nor do they seem truly open to them. The balance they bring is to defend the extremely well-defended racist status quo.
They push themselves into discussions between people of colour and, instead of seeking broaden their own knowledge and understanding, they turn it into a debate to “win”. People are talking about issues that affect their lives and they turn it into a game for their own amusement. White privilege gives them the luxury of not having to take it seriously. White racism, in fact, demands that they do not.
Objectivity, open discussion, new ideas and all of that are good things, of course. I am not saying otherwise. But in my experience most Whites – not all, just most – who say they are for those things in discussions on race are in fact their enemies. They are the opposite of what they appear to be.