Othering is Bad: Should go Without Saying

This blog post is written with much exasperation. It should go without saying that people of color have experienced the full range of attitudes, philosophies, and preferences that people not-of-color have experienced. Unfortunately, sometimes a reminder is needed that othering is bad even when the politically correct do it. In this case, I am writing this as a reminder that a person can be an African-American and genuinely support non-Democrats. Part of this is about people I know personally so don’t expect deep analysis. Although anecdote is not data, a single counter example can refute claims of ‘all’ or ‘none.’


The pre-trigger for this rant was the assertion by a thoughtful Black woman that only white privilege would enable someone to vote for a third party in this election. I posted an initial counter, but remembered that I should redirect such comments here, if any. I deleted my Facebook comment. So far so good. There is no actual trigger thus far.

When I checked to confirm the Facebook deletion, the actual trigger was waiting for me. There was the troll-move by a former classmate and friend (TW). In general, trolling would be fine and encouraged, except he lies and slanders and spews nonsensical propaganda. In wanting to troll me, he often strays into bigotry, hatred, and hypocrisy. I believe his family, friends, and coworkers on Facebook would rather me not expose and flame him there. In this case, the assertion is that one can not both support Biden and believe that a Black person could vote for a third party. The leaps in illogic are one thing, but the continued ‘othering’ of Blacks must be called out and stopped.

I don’t want to get in a flame war with TW in the threads of 3rd parties on Facebook. That is what this blog is for. I am starting in good faith and this post will not take further shots at TW. He is encouraged to engage on the merits and explain what his evidence is that only white privilege could allow someone to vote for a third party. Alternatively, like Joe Biden, he can say ‘oh yeah, I didn’t mean to imply that Blacks are monolithic’ or something similar. Or some third reply.

Begin Rant

Because a relatively large proportion of African Americans and some other minorities support the Democratic Party, it is important to guard against the ‘othering’ of BIPOCs as a group. BIPOC = Black, Indigenous Peoples, and People of Color (BIPOC). Like many terms, ‘othering’ can have different meanings in different contexts. Here I rely on the usage among Psychologists and Social Psychologists, that at a minimum ‘othering’ refers to the many expressions of prejudice on basis of group identity. It is typically accompanied by the belief that the range of differences among the insiders is wider than the range among the ‘others.’ It is not merely a statement about different proportions, it is a statement about the extent of the range. For example, if rolling two pairs of dice fifty times each, it is not just saying that one pair of dice had a different average than the other, but that the other pair of dice never rolled the extremes (2 or 12), or never roll low numbers (2,3,4), or never roll the middle (6,7,8), etc. This ‘othering’ is sometimes called outgroup homogeneity bias. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/darwins-subterranean-world/201904/the-psychology-othering, http://www.otheringandbelonging.org/the-problem-of-othering/

In political and social discussions, ‘othering’ is common. Simple carelessness can take one from saying ‘the proportion of Catholics among Italian-Americans is higher than among African-Americans” to assuming all Italian-Americans are Catholics but no African-Americans are Catholics. The statement about differences in proportions is true. It is confirmed by a variety of public records, including old Censuses. However, the statement about range is false. One can not say that a real Italian-American has to be Catholic, or a real African-American is not Catholic. The variability of Italian-Americans and African-Americans is wide enough to include examples of both Catholics and non-Catholics in both groups. It would be an example of ‘othering’ to assume that an individual African American cannot be Catholic, distinct from ‘probably is not.’

Joe Biden recently ran afoul of this problem with his “you ain’t Black” comment. Many commentators rushed to condemn him for taking the Black vote for granted, or accused him of racism. Here is a description of the gaffe from Vox.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is no stranger to the political gaffe. And on Friday, he stepped in it once again. After putting it off for months, Biden finally sat down for an interview on “The Breakfast Club,” a radio show that’s earned a place in the black cultural canon for its buzzy, confrontational interviews of entertainers and political leaders. While the 18-minute interview with host Charlamagne Tha God was tense overall, it wasn’t until its final moments that Biden uttered the sentence that would set social media aflame: “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” https://www.vox.com/identities/2020/5/25/21269124/biden-black-voters-for-granted https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2020/05/25/joe-biden-you-aint-black-racism-trump-column/5254434002/

My rant is neither defending nor condemning Joe Biden. He recognized the gaffe once it was pointed out to him. He retracted. That incident is over as far as I’m concerned. Joe has a political record stretching over my entire adult life. I will judge him on that record, not his gaffes. I encourage everyone to take that approach.

Instead, my rant is about the TWs of the world ‘othering’ BIPOCs in the name of hyper Democratic partisanship. He took my reply, which pointed out the sincerity of Green Party and Libertarian (and more 3rd parties) Blacks, and he tried to troll me on my views of Joe Biden – views never mentioned. I shouldn’t have to demonstrate that it is bad to ‘other’ BIPOCs to an ardent Democratic partisan on Facebook, but this is what we have come to.

Let me be clear on why ‘othering’ African-Americans in this way is not only a bad thing, it is also inaccurate. Recall that this is about the range, not the proportion. (1) It contradicts my personal observations of the range of views among BIPOCs I have known in my personal life. (2) It contradicts the range I have met going about day-to-day life. (3) It contradicts the range of views in current public records. (4) It contradicts the range of views that can be documented historically.

In my personal experience, BIPOCs have the full range of political and social views. There are the individuals with whom I had long-time interaction, like the 6-8 Black Philadelphian who took over my thesis committee when my chair went on maternity leave. He served in Korea, claims to have played against Wilt Chamberlain in High School, and had to take buses across the US to get to econ grad school while parts of the country were still segregated. There was the young activist who unbeknownst to me adopted me as his informal adviser – and as president of the Black Student Union invited a Black Muslim speaker to campus so radical that Louis Farrakhan had kicked him out of the NOI. There was the government lawyer who in his spare time canvassed the streets of Baltimore to recruit people for the Libertarian Party. There was the math genius from East Africa who had that magic combination of social ineptitude (I can relate) and hatred of Americans (not America, there is a difference). There was the socialist woman from South America of Indian descent (India Indian, not South American Indian) whom everyone assumed was African American who led two separate lives – one with her white friends and one with her Black friends. There was the party entrepreneur who had struggled as an ex-con, but made it relatively big traveling the country with his own business providing logistical support for regional pop-up DJs (he mostly complained about taxes). There was the master electrician with the severe stuttering problem who picked up extra money staffing the stadium club suites. And many others. These individuals have radically different views from one another despite each being Black, or identifying as Black.

I gather no moss. I no longer have the burning desire to see Paris at night, nor climb to Machu Picchu, nor ride a camel to a pyramid. But, I do like to visit random coffee shops and sports bars across North America and strike up casual conversations with random people, or quietly endure our common hardships. I meet a lot of different people, white and BIPOC. That includes Maine crab fisherman complaining about a bad year for the Red Sox, Louisiana families riding the bus between Baton Rouge and Lafyette for a funeral, Iowa bicyclists camping out before the Missouri River to Mississippi River tour festival, DC construction workers drinking shots after they were told their current project was complete but the contractor lost the bid for the next project, the Harvard Yale alumni associations gathering in a Seattle Mission District bar for their annual football game, playing pool with West Virginia ‘homeless’ construction workers who drove to Fairfax City on Monday mornings and drove back to WV on Friday afternoons, sleeping in their cars between, predominantly Black DC residents enjoying Karaoke in the only bar near the USDA graduate school, that one extrovert Amish person riding the Amtrak train between SF and Denver (there is always that one guy) who just wants to talk to anyone other than his family for a while, the chain-smoking tourist from China who claims to be surprised that he couldn’t smoke on Amtrak (I didn’t believe him), the New York City real estate agent who got in an argument with an Occupy Wall Street organizer during the Jets-Giants game in a Manhattan sports bar, the native American snowboarders cruising down the holy mountain in clown hats insisting that everyone show proper respect, the Sikh BlueJays fans who adopted me in the upper bleachers of the Rogers Center on Canada Day weekend, the Denver bookstore manager who pushed a regional author’s ghost stories, the ‘Pennsatucky’ anti-semite who kept insisting I was Jewish – as if that would be a bad thing, the Los Angeles dreamer musician trying to create a music video business, the Amtrak cross-country personnel who travel long distance with the train but then the train hits a truck and we all get massively delayed, and…

Do I have to say it? It might be anecdotal, but I am telling you there are individual Black construction workers in DC who resent Latin American immigrants. Some of these individuals have complained to me at 5:30 a.m. in the only coffee shop near their site and expressed their desire to close the borders, that NAFTA took all their jobs, that the Clintons meant well but were corrupt, that the Democratic Party is rigged against them – things that Bernie said in the primaries in 2016 (except closing the immigration part), and that Trump repeated in the general election campaign. These individuals are not alone. I have met Blacks with similar views waiting on the side of I-45 in Texas for a replacement Greyhound bus, watching basketball in a Florida sports bar, and driving my cab in Chicago. This might be a good time to remind people that President Obama increased deportations many fold compared to Bush when he took office and it was President Obama who built some of those “cages for children” at the border. To his credit in my view, President Obama completely reversed that policy in year 6 of his presidency.

Many of these and other people are Democrats, or see the Democratic Party as the least bad. But some don’t. Their like or dislike is genuine. Some (but not all) of the native born African Americans don’t think immigrant Africans have experienced the suffering of the community here. Some think immigrant Africans should be excluded from affirmative action and similar programs. Some (but not all) immigrant Africans believe that native born African Americans are too passive; that many native born African Americans don’t seek out the opportunities that are here. Most African-Americans are Democrats. But, there are sincere African Americans who are Republicans. There are sincere African Americans who are socialists (real socialists, not just social safety net). And yes, I have had beer or coffee or shared rides with some Black Libertarians and Black Marxists, and even an honest-to-god Black Monarchist (we do have occasional problems combining head of state and head of government in a single office).

Public records do not support the assertion that only white privilege would lead someone to vote for a third party. The vice president of the Green Party ticket is Angela Nicole Walker, a Black woman. In the past, she has run as an independent socialist for local office in Wisconsin. Why should I believe that it is Angela Nicole Walker’s white privilege that leads her to run as a Green Party candidate and vote for her own party? See my previous post/rant on the strategy of the Left in Weimar Germany for an example of Leftists who do not prefer centrists to the far right.

Furthermore, the data does not even support the assertion that third party voters necessarily benefit Trump. For one thing, there are third parties like the Libertarians who also draw significantly from potential Republican voters. Second, one analysis of the Green Party in March 2016 suggests that the Green Party affiliates second choice was not clearly Secretary Clinton. https://brandongaille.com/32-stunning-green-party-demographics/

For the 2016 election, 21% of Green Party supporters state that they would vote for Marco Rubio. Another 15% would vote for Donald Trump.
Only 23% of Green Party voters say that they would vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

I think I have ranted enough. However, if called upon I will add a section on the breadth of views of political economy among BIPOCs.

Bottom Line

If anyone wants to say that in their opinion only a fool would vote for Trump, or only a fool would vote for Biden, or only a fool would vote for a third party – that is one thing. Everyone should have an opinion and I encourage everyone to express it – or remain silent at their option. I am not triggered.

However, if you say that there can not be BIPOCs who will sincerely vote for Trump or a third party, then I am pointing out that you are ‘othering’ BIPOCs. Furthermore, recognizing that BIPOCs are not monolithic should be highly correlated with voting for Joe, not an exclusion.

As evidence #1 – I refer to Joe Biden’s own retraction. As evidence #2, I offer my own testimony of the variety of views among people I have known well or casually. As evidence #3, I point to the actual candidates of third parties. If called upon I will followed up with the 4th category of evidence, historic reference to BIPOCs who held views in opposition to the major parties of the United States.

TW, if you read this, I encourage you to respond on the merits. If so, I will keep it on the merits. Do not try to guess what my support or opposition to anything is. I will express my support or opposition. You express yours. I do have many friends who I encourage to tweak my nose about my views. You have lost that benefit of the doubt. But I would like to be friends again and get your thoughts on the issues of the day.

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