White Americans and the Danger of Moral Superiority

“Ultimately evil is done not so much by evil people, but by good people who do not know themselves and who do not probe deeply.”
Reinhold Niebuhr
One thing I learned as I traveled and got close with people from other countries was that I had an ingrained sense of moral superiority as an American. I always assumed, more or less, that I was the good guy in world affairs. Some might call this patriotism. But whatever you call it, it’s how we were raised and what we were taught. We spread democracy. We lead the world in equality and women’s rights. We promote freedom and the ability to “make it” fairly in the world. No dictatorships in America. No censorship in America. But is that the whole story?
I think this is really similar to the moral superiority complex white people have against black people. The complex that can be summed up in this phrase:
“You think black lives matter? Oh…well I think ALL lives matter.”
In this sentence is so much that needs to be unpacked. The assumption that black people don’t care about all lives. The fact that you are suddenly forcing black people to choose between saying black lives matter or all lives matter, trapping them. The fact that you took a movement and turned it into something divisive, and then accuse the other side of being divisive. The fact that you turned the tables so that you get to play the victim, when in fact you are the oppressor. This last one is the worst one, and it’s the most common amongst Americans with the mindset I am describing.
Yes, black people get stopped by the police more. Yes, they are charged with crimes more. Yes, they are more often sent to jail. Yes they have equal rights under the law and the right to a fair trial. So your reasoning is that they must be doing bad things. But is that the whole story?
We, meaning me, and whoever else grew up in this way, need to get a reality check with this. Our country is not some sort of global saint. White people are not freakishly obedient and kind to police. We do not have more peaceful interactions with police because we are just so good. White people do not value lives higher than the rest of humanity. Americans don’t value lives more than the rest of humanity. We are only looking at one side of the coin when we think like this.
This kind of thinking is so dangerous because it makes us so blind to the oppression that we are responsible for without even realizing it. You can’t walk all over a foreign people in the name of democracy. You can’t act like you know what’s best for everyone while you dismantle their systems and force them to start from scratch. You can’t ignore your county’s human rights infringements and then demonize another country for their human rights infringements. When you think you are right like that, its so freaking dangerous and so infuriating for the people watching you do this. Because what it really comes down to is hypocrisy.
This is what makes me so mad about foreign affairs and about the black lives matter movement. My goal with everything I write or say or do is that I just want people to realize how blind they are to their acts of oppression, and their ability to be outraged by some events while completely ignoring others, and their insistence on playing the victim when they are the opposite. If we could just grasp this idea of subconscious moral superiority and how damaging it is, and then really internalize it and try to fix it in ourselves, I think so much would change.
In religion, when you start to believe you are better than other people, or chosen by God, or more rightly guided, that’s when you fall into extremism and hypocrisy. It’s the same thing in life. It’s the exact same thing. God’s clever like that.
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