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Dear Joan, I Am Not Your Negro: My Reply To A Condescending E-Mail
In-Group Versus Out-Group and the demand for collective responsibility
On February 2nd, I received an email from a woman named Joan in response to my NY Post article. Her condescending diatribe didn't bother me but what stuck out to me was her demand for me to "go into black communities and tell black youth that crime leads to jail time."
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This statement was especially puzzling because my article had nothing to do with violence. The basis of the article was about embracing Black History Month based on the original purpose, as it wasn't about victimhood but accomplishments & perseverance.
So why would this woman bring up violence committed by black people in the face of me encouraging us to take a moment to appreciate their accomplishments throughout history? Even more so, why has she tasked me with talking to black youths? When did it become my job to do so?
I believe this is part of an "in-group versus out-group" perception dynamic. If the group is your group, you tend to see the positives & rationalize the negatives, & vice versa for the outgroup. This dynamic could apply to anything: sports teams, religious sects, & yes, race.
This belief system gets strengthened even more when the out-group has a conflict with the in-group. In this instance, she brings up black youths in Brooklyn who assault Jews in Brooklyn, which once again, has nothing to do with what I wrote in the first place.
For her, this was an opportunity to preach to someone who is part of the out-group and take pleasure in wagging her finger at me as she demands that I become accountable for the actions of strangers who share their complexion.
I don't know anything about this person but being that they read the NY Post, it would be a fair guess that they are probably conservative-leaning. Yet, this person is espousing collectivist rhetoric by pronouncing that I should have shared racial guilt or responsibility.
The hallmark of conservatism is the belief in individuality and being accountable for your own actions alone, yet, when faced with a situation involving the out-group, she became a collectivist that is no different than the leftists she probably hates.
It doesn't matter that I don't live in Brooklyn or that I don't personally know any black youths who have assaulted any Jewish people. All that matters is that I am not of her group, and because of this, she can now establish responsibility by association.
These types of responses aren't outliers, although I wish they were. I read comments like this all the time and every so often I receive statements about how "blacks need to tell blacks" something as if there is a weekly conference call.
It's a statement that presumes that we all believe the same thing, perceive the world the same way, and act the same way. It's a flippant response that rids us of individuality so it can make all of us culpable for the bad actions of a minority of us and dismiss the good we do.
So if Joan were to ever read this, I don't need to "go into the black community" to tell them that committing crimes leads to jail...everyone knows this already.
Your statement about me being a "confused black man" is based on a single article because you believe I didn't take a strong enough position in your eyes, but I think it's because you already have this preconceived notion as to what's acceptable for me to say as a black man.
My viewpoints are nuanced because life is complex and not as simplistic as you want it to be. Lastly, I don't need to do anything, especially something barked by a self-righteous stranger like yourself.
As James Baldwin famously stated: I am not your negro.