In the summer of 2016, award-winning actor Will Smith made an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon to promote what was then his new film Suicide Squad. He also briefly shared his thoughts on race relations in the US when Fallon brought up the spectacle of the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.
"Hearing people say that race relations are worse than they've ever been, it doesn't feel like that to me," said Smith. "Racism isn't getting worse--it s getting filmed."
Smith touched on a profound aspect of our social reality: that the oppression and indignation experienced by the oppressed, as well as the strife between the oppressed and oppressor, have always existed. The only thing that's changed is increased public awareness and scrutiny.
No doubt we're all familiar with the recent high-profile sexual misconduct cases related to Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose, Louis C.K., and many others. I brought up the Smith quote because there are both subtle and explicit parallels between the normalization and maintenance of racism and patriarchy--including the way those who occupy positions of social power choose to interpret and respond to actions that reinforce these unequal power dynamics.
With the intense swell of men being exposed for predatory behavior, there have been many men who respond with victim-blaming sentiments ("It's your fault, so it's your problem," "why are you only saying something now?" and so on). Others excuse the deluge of revelations as being "witch hunts" (suggesting there is no real problem), or stating these cases are anomalies and that they don't represent common attitudes or behaviors (#NotAllMen). These kinds of reactions mimic how many white people misidentify root issues of racism and decide that race relations are now "worse than ever" simply because racial injustice is more difficult to ignore.
Ultimately, people are people. Innate to human nature is an aversion to being wrong. This is why we're instinctively more concerned with trying to place blame elsewhere than with engaging ourselves in self-inventory, culpability, and working towards being better. As well, humans are tribal creatures. Despite what some say, this survival tendency isn't inherently a bad thing, as it promotes social cohesion. (Also, lest we forget, humanist and atheist communities are products of tribal thinking.)
However, there can be adverse consequences to tribalism. Comedian Kate Willet used humor to...