Was it Racist? (Atheist Roo Drama)

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An examination of the drama surrounding Atheist Roo, dispelling misconceptions and focusing on the statement that sparked it all. Was it racist?
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This is an article about the Atheism-Is-Unstoppable (@Atheist_Roo) drama going on in the YouTube atheist community. If that doesn’t interest you, you should disregard this article. If you don’t know much about it, try these two highly biased (and highly hilarious) sources to start with:

Despite the articles being exaggerations in general, the majority of the claims in at least the first article are based on reality.

The Premise

This article is intended to be an explanation of my position on a statement that Atheist_Roo made. I’m writing it so that I don’t have to re-explain it every time I discuss the matter.

The drama itself started from a statement Roo made which was criticised on the Drunken Peasants Podcast. It has since spiralled up from there, so please don’t consider my condemnation in this article to be my only condemnation of Roo.

I don’t care that Roo said this. People say racist shit all the time. I am not offended, I am not trying to tone-police him. The only reason this is an issue is that two groups disagree on it with such vitriol. It’s a petty issue. As I mentioned just now, it is only the spark of the drama, but since it all rests on this one contention, it is worth deliberating it and defending my position. Edit: This is also for the purposes of explaining (and perhaps justifying) the reaction of the Drunken Peasants to what Roo said when they first watched his video.

Dispelling Misconceptions

There are many misconceptions about the positions and motivations of Roo’s detractors.

Edit (2015/10/04 9:19 am BST): To clarify, by “detractor”, in this case, I am referring to those major voices who have publicly criticised Roo. This includes Josh, TJ and the Drunken Peasants, Jaclyn, and many other prominent YouTubers. I don’t speak for all of them, but mean to refer to the qualitative bulk of Roo’s critics.

I have had the impression that many of Roo’s followers believe that the only contention Roo’s detractors have is with him simply stating the high black crime stats in the US. That is not the case. This is a baseless straw-man, intended to smear and mischaracterise Roo’s opponents. There may be people who hold this position, but as far as I can tell, none of Roo’s main detractors do.

None of Roo’s main detractors are social justice warriors or radical feminists, and most have argued vehemently against them.

None of them are against any freedom of speech as far as I know, and support Roo’s right to say what he wants. They are simply criticising what he is saying.

None of them are trying to excuse any criminals from responsibility. For the avoidance of doubt: Criminals should be held accountable for their crimes. There are no excuses (excepting minors), but there are causes – exploring these is the only way to combat crime effectively.

I don’t think any of Roo’s main detractors believe that Roo is personally racist (that includes Josh). I think there are weak indications to that effect, but it’s not sufficient evidence. I am only arguing that what he said was literally racist, since that is a point of contention. I don’t know what the intention behind what he said was for sure, although I suspect the meaning that the sentence actually has was not the meaning Roo intended to give. If that is true, and he had simply admitted that, none of this drama would ever have happened.

Yes, Roo has been referred to as a Nazi, he has been called racist and he has been included in defamatory art. These are embellishments and exaggerations designed to generate interest in the subject. I am against dehumanisation, but as long as these statements remain the front display of the criticisms and not the content of the criticisms, I don’t have a strong position on their (im)morality. Either way, both sides have engaged in this activity.

The Quote, and My Claim

The full quote in contention is as follows:

People that are black they are often treated bad by the cops? Maybe they should stop dealing with the cops, maybe they should stop committing crimes.
—Atheist_Roo to Jaclyn Glenn

I make three claims about this, which are as follows:

  1. This generalises all black people as criminals, which is stating that they are inferior, which matches the definition of racist.
  2. It blames the victims of persecution. While not racist, this is condemnable.
  3. It claims that black people do not deserve equal access to judicial impartiality. This is effectively racist, but at the very least, it’s condemnable.

I will now support these claims.

Claim 1 – Generalising all black people as criminals

Let’s break down the quote. Here’s a simplification (followed by a response to a likely criticism):

If black people don’t want to be persecuted by police, black people should stop committing crimes.

There is an argument to be made that the people who should stop committing crimes he was referring to were just those black people who do in fact commit crimes, however, there is no grammatical indication whatsoever that he meant this. His use of “they” in the second sentence could only have been referring to “people that are black” from the first sentence.

Even if he had meant to separate all black people from just those who commit crimes, then it wouldn’t be a sufficient response, since plenty of innocent black people in the US are persecuted by the police. It would also entirely miss the point of the problem of not only extreme persecution of petty criminals (see Eric Garner and Walter Scott), but also the complete evasion of responsibility that many (not all) of these police officers are afforded.

But if you’d like to make that argument, you are choosing to say that Roo is an idiot (or deliberately dishonest) rather than that he said something racist. It’s up to you.

If you do not choose to make that argument, then you are conceding that he generalises all black people as being criminal, which is racist. That’s claim 1 supported. I have more claims to prove though, so I’ll continue.

Claim 2 – Blaming the victims of persecution

Let’s simplify again:

Black people are responsible for the persecution they receive from police.

Again, I’m sure there’ll be contentions to this, so I’ll explain my rationale.

In the previous simplification, it was stated that black people can avoid persecution by not committing crimes. It therefore logically follows that they are responsible for their choice to commit crimes, and therefore the consequences of it. It therefore follows that petty criminals like Eric Garner and Walter Scott were responsible for extreme excessive force from police which resulted in their deaths.

Eric Garner barely resisted arrest, and was not violent. He was choked to death by a police officer using an illegal manoeuvre. The event was captured on video.

Walter Scott was running from a police officer. Said officer shot him eight times in the back. This event was also captured on video.

Were these black men responsible for their crimes? Yes. Were they responsible for the disproportionate reactions to their crimes? No.

That’s claim 2 supported, now for claim 3.

Innocent black people are persecuted as well as guilty black people. It’s true that the high profile cases have all involved black criminals, but there have been cases which didn’t.

To say that the solution to this problem is that blacks need to stop committing crimes ignores the fact that only a minority commit crimes, and that the rest deserve to have their cases analysed without racial prejudice. The quoted sentence would not have made sense if it was taking this into consideration.

And that’s claim 3 supported.

Conclusion

What I hope will come from this is some understanding — among those of Roo’s supporters who are willing to be objective — of what their opponents believe. I do not speak for all of Roo’s detractors, but I believe the positions I have presented here are common among them.

I would like a dialogue on this matter, but I know it won’t get us anywhere in general. I have no doubt that Roo will never apologise, even if he does believe he is wrong. I don’t know what the conclusion to this drama will be, perhaps there won’t be one. It’s already taken its toll on both sides.

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