False Equivalence in Black and White
Originally published on Radical Eyes for Equity | P.L. Thomas | 2017 | P.L. Thomas is the author of Beware The Roadbuilders: Literature As Resistance, available on Amazon ($19.95); Trumplandia: Unmasking Post-Truth America, available on Amazon($14.95) and contributing author to United We Stand, available on Amazon ($14.95)
By P.L. Thomas
Even in cases of 50/50 settlements of divorce, an important dynamic exists:
Ultimately, the overall economic quality of a man’s life, based on earnings and amount spent on living expenses, increases after his divorce. He continues to earn more but bears fewer family expenses. The overall economic quality of a woman’s life, post-divorce, decreases. (Rosen, 2009)
While the factors in this inequity are complicated, they are all under a clear difference in gender: after a divorce men retain male privilege and women continue to suffer the consequences of misogyny and sex discrimination (both of which may be mollified or masked while a woman is married).
This example allows us to wade into how people often assume equivalence between two situations or arguments that appear superficially equal; that assumption is a logical fallacy known as false equivalence.
Discussions of logical fallacies, I believe, often feel as if they are much ado about nothing, or merely academic—the stuff of college composition, rhetoric, and philosophy courses.
However, the careful naming of ways people think and communicate are witnessed daily in how we live; currently, the destructive power of false equivalence is on display in the wake of the violence spurred by a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA.
One of the most bitter aspects of the U.S. as a current state of Trumplandia is the racial animosity emboldened by Trump, what has been characterized by the mainstream media as white pain or white angst (often oversimplified and whitewashed as working-class pain and angst).
Just as gender distinguishes the consequences of divorce, in the U.S., socially constructed race distinguishes pain and angst.
To be blunt, white pain simply is not equal to black pain since blacks carry daily the inequity of race through their lives while even struggling whites maintain some aspects of white privilege—just as men carry their male privilege even in challenging situations such as divorce.
The false equivalence, then, created with political and public speech about “all lives” or “both sides” or “many sides” fails to address the substantive differences, for example, in Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests (or Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling) from the white nationalists’ rally in Virginia over the removal of a Confederate monument.
BLM and Kaepernick are protest against inequity and calling for integrating all people into the same privileges that whites experience. White nationalists are railing against a false loss (symbolized by the removal of an offensive statue that represents oppression) and promoting racial inequity and segregation.
Again, simply put, two protests are not equal simply because they are protests, and one (BLM) has a moral imperative and a goal of expanding equity while the other (white nationalists) is clinging to an inequitable status quo and a romanticized oppressive past.
Just as expanding the marriage equities to gays never took anything away from advocates for so-called traditional straight marriage, expanding the promise of a just and equitable U.S. to everyone regardless of identity is not some assault on or removal of America but a long overdue path to fulfilling of America.
White nationalism in all its forms—from “Make America Great Again” to the most virulent Neo-Nazis and the KKK—is a plague on the U.S. It must not be equated to demands for equity in our justice system and liberty for all, which are the goals of BLM and counter-protests to white nationalism rallies.
The only thing whites are at risk of losing is their privilege, the false advantages of race that currently disadvantage people of color, the “peculiar benefits” Roxane Gay confronts that work invisibly to those who enjoy them:
We tend to believe that accusations of privilege imply we have it easy and because life is hard for nearly everyone, we resent hearing that. Of course we do. Look at white men when they are accused of having privilege. They tend to be immediately defensive (and, at times, understandably so). They say, “It’s not my fault I am a white man.” They say, “I’m working class,” or “I’m [insert other condition that discounts their privilege],” instead of simply accepting that, in this regard, yes, they benefit from certain privileges others do not. To have privilege in one or more areas does not mean you are wholly privileged. To acknowledge privilege is not a denial of the ways you are marginalized, the ways you have suffered. Surrendering to the acceptance of privilege is difficult but it is really all that is expected.
White nationalism is a denial of white privilege and a calloused clinging to the injustice and inequity that are represented by the monuments and flags white nationalists protect and flaunt.
Black Lives Matter and white nationalism are both bound by race, but they are in no way equal—the former is a call for equity and justice for all and the latter is the gross necrophilia clutching the ideologies that bred the Holocaust and American slavery.
False equivalency is a master’s tool, a rhetorical lie to distract a people from the hard but good work recognizing the unity of all humanity.
 Note that this may also be more about gender inequity, however.