The Psychology of Racist Arguments

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This article discusses a few types of arguments people use to justify prejudice or racist beliefs and behavior.

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By Dr. Moriel McDuffy

The George Floyd death is one of many recent unarmed African Americans killed by police. Not that long ago, Breonna Taylor died in her home at the hands of the police. In the past, some white Americans have not understood the police brutality of African Americans and minimize the problem. On the other hand, there is a racist group that infuses irrelevant arguments that cause confusion and distract from the problem. I am not suggesting that everyone who uses these arguments is racist. However, some use these arguments as distractions from the actual issues and others who do not understand. They use these arguments to cast doubt and persuade those with the power not to issue meaningful policies. I highlighted a few strategies below.

Shift the focus

Shifting the focus involves raising an issue that is loosely related, but different from the problem. For example, people are protesting police brutality and the killing of unarmed blacks at the hands of police. Some argue black on black crime to shift the focus of the problem to another issue. The black on black crime has nothing to do with how police handle interactions and the arrest of unarmed African Americans. However, the racist intent behind it is so pervasive that some African Americans have used the same argument. Beware of when people try to shift the topic to a separate problem and hold people accountable to address the issue, not use a different matter as an excuse not to act. For example, the argument against kneeling for the national anthem is also a distractor. When Collin Kapernick kneeled during the national anthem, some quickly associated kneeling with patriotism and the military. However, African Americans had always served in the military, even when they were considered subhuman. They fought and came home to a country that did not like them. Somehow this argument implies that only whites fight in the military, and the flag only represents white society members. It is a white nationalist argument that goes against the freedoms the United States grants its citizens.


One ancient thought distortion that has permeated racist arguments is the overgeneralization. Overgeneralization is when someone sees a characteristic in one group member and attributes it to all the group members. For example, because of George Floyds death, there were peaceful protesters who intended to protest without violence. However, the protest also invites opportunists and racist under the flag of “boogaloo” who destroyed property and committed violent acts. 

If you were wondering, boogaloo is a term/group of white nationalists who infiltrate black protest to begin the violence. It is too easy for someone to confuse well-meaning people by meshing the two groups together.

An example would be to say that all the protesters are violent, or protesters are terrorists. Do not let these arguments confuse you. 

Well-meaning individuals make distinctions between the groups. For example, peaceful protesters and looters are two distinct groups.


Many Americans who do not understand the issues wonder how big police brutality is in the community. I believe the nationwide protest has answered that question. There are still individuals who try to minimize the problem. Minimizing is when someone denies the severity or impact of an issue. Examples of those who minimize include those who argue.

· Police only beat criminals.

· They have charged the officers. Why are you protesting?

· They do not kill that many people.

· All lives matter.

Prosecutors rarely convict officers. Also, officers rarely face meaningful consequences. No one should minimize unarmed Blacks dying at the hands of police when it does not seem to happen to white men very often.

There are other irrelevant arguments born out of cognitive distortions, but these are three common arguments. The only way that things change is for people to put their pride and fears of change aside and act on the problem as it exists. Do not be fooled by crafty arguments that mischaracterize the problem of police brutality in African American Communities. Also, remember that some are willfully ignorant and will never acknowledge any issue of racism.    

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