In a recent article on terrorism, Elizabeth Plank posted the following tweet from CNN/Daily Beast commentator Sally Kohn that almost nails our unhelpful propensity to caricature entire groups based on the actions of a vocal or violent few.
I say “almost,” because Kohn is arguing that when it comes to Caucasians, the rules change. I disagree. Think of the Ferguson situation. People were extremely quick to formulate the following equation: White police shooter = all white cops racist. Speaking from personal experience, people almost get angry when you suggest otherwise.
Something else Kohn seems to be missing is the inherent ethnocentrism underlying her tweet. Just witness the litany of Muslim leaders condemning the Charlie Hebdo attack. That’s because when someone from “our” group does or says something terrible, the natural reaction is to isolate them and portray them as some sort of aberration, an exception to their otherwise decent peers. That’s not the way I define or practice my religion. So for Muslims, Muslim shooter = mentally troubled lone wolf.
All that to say, everyone has a blind spot, especially when the belief system upon which we have based our identity is threatened. Kohn is right to point out the exceptionalism we apply to members of our own group in such situations. But this tendency is endemic to all people, not just white people. If we fail to recognize that, we’re merely falling into yet another of the unhelpful equations Kohn identifies in her post.