<Sigh> That’s pretty much how I have to start every article about Ben Shapiro. With a deep inhale then an exhale of sheer EXHAUSTION! I would offer an introduction to Mr. Shapiro—about his long history of conservative, right-wing proselytizing; about how he CLAIMS to be a person who points out immorality on both sides of the aisle (cough, cough, lie); and his most recent ascendancy from Editor-in-Chief of Breitbart to EIC of Dailywire. But, I assume you’re already familiar with his history if this article’s title attracted you. So, let me just dive right in.
Yet another attempt to “debunk” systemic racism
What has inspired this latest epic article was a recent video Ben made, the purpose of which was to “debunk” another video that went viral last year because it gave a very reasoned, compassionate, and well-researched look at systemic racism in America.
Ben goes out of his way, even with hisvery busy schedule, to sit down and “debunk” this video, point by point. So, allow me to retort. I may at some point make my own, admittedly less polished video to address these issues, but this mini-novel of a response was something I found necessary to share on a Facebook group where an infamous white privilege-denier and racist (who doesn’t think he’s one) shared Ben’s debunk video. And, well, since I had already taken the time and energy to write this response, I am now sharing it here with you fine reader. So, grab a cup of Joe, and let’s dig in.
Fair warning: my response is really long. Suffice to say that the main gist is this: as usual, Ben uses partial truths and nuanced dialog to skip over major issues. He summarily dismisses the effects of 400 years of oppression and goes out of his way to debunk a well-reasoned video that is attempting to make life more equitable for marginalized people.
Why? So that Ben can sell his book which he pitches at the end of this video — right before the sponsorship ad by the “Good Christian”, cisgender, heterosexcual, white businessmen that paid him to help make this video. (And if you have to ask why I’m pointing out the fact the sponsors are white, cis-het Christian men, you still don’t get it).
We will not be gaslighted!
I HATE giving this a-hole more views. But I feel it’s necessary to understand what I will explain. If you can avoid watching it and just read my analysis, do that? But, if you wanna watch it, be my guest. (But you’re uninvited to “the cookout” if you do!)
Now, here’s the full breakdown.
Definition of Racism
One of the more frustrating points Ben continues to make with regards to this issue of systemic racism is that there are multiple definitions for the term. He frequently says, “If we’re going to talk about racism, I need to know what you mean.” He’ll then go on to state how one definition is the personal belief one may have that one race is superior or inferior to another, and another definition—the one he claims People of Color (POC) are making—is that systemic racism represents specific laws and policies today which are specifically based on race.
This is a classic straw man argument that NO ONE IS MAKING! I constantly see right-wing extremists, racists, and/or white privilege-deniers on social media make all the time. Completely ignoring the FACTS that there are policies, practices, and ways of thinking in education, the workplace, and the criminal justice system that, while not specifically based on race, are indeed remnants of hundreds of years of racist structures that were specifically based on race (e.g. the huge wealth gap in America between whites and blacks, largely due to the inability of Black people to inherit wealth due to those aforementioned racists laws like Redlining, denial of GI Bill funds, etc.)
Take a look at the war on drugs where there is a disproportionate number of Black people serving long sentences for relatively minor crimes (e.g. possession of marijuana). Statistics show that white people use or deal drugs just as much as blacks, and yet are not sentenced or even arrested at the same rate (Michelle Alexander “The New Jim Crow” 10th Anniversary edition)[affiliate link]. For example—rich, white frat boys smoking pot will either not be taken it at all, or at worst get a slap on the wrist.
A lot of what happens in these communities is based on Race Neutral laws that on their surface seem like they are just that, neutral to race; but in practice, still systematically hurt POC significantly more. Stop and frisk was a perfect example. The law was that people dressed a certain way could be stopped and questioned. Therefore, it was based on dress, not race. Neutral. But, 20 white kids with baggy jeans and t-shirts hanging out at the strip mall with skateboards get ignored by the cops, while 20 black youth dressed similarly will get stopped.
The original viral video points out how public school systems are funded by property taxes, where there is a significant abundance of wealthier (i.e. white communities) vs. impoverished (i.e. Black) communities. Ben mentions that Jamal (the fictional Black youth in the viral video he’s supposedly “debunking”) should move to a better neighborhood with better schools so as to avoid the educational disparity.
First, his assumption that a Black family can just pick up and leave their impoverished community and move to a wealthier area with better schools is so empirically ridiculous, I don’t know why even HE put it in this video. A single mother living on $24,000 a year in South Central Los Angeles is not going to be able to just move to Beverly Hills, Brentwood, or even Culver City. It’s insulting to the viewer’s intelligence to make such assumptions. (Another thing Ben is quite adept at doing).
Second, Ben fails to address what happens in a community when white flight occurs after Black people come in. When white flight happens, the money follows the whites, and/or the Black children and families face horrible treatment from the white families.
When Ben addresses the issues of redlining (illegal policies started in the 1930s where lending institutions were allowed not to lend to Black families who lived in the “redlined” communities), again, in perfect Ben fashion, he misses a huge point. He addresses the abolishment of these laws which really didn’t come into effect until the 1970s. He was even quoting stats from the 90s. Hello! Redlining started in the 1930s and lasted for a good 30 to 40 years. That’s 30 to 40s years of real estate wealth and income built up primarily in white neighborhoods. That’s 30 to 40 years for Black neighborhoods not to grow.
Kim Jones makes an excellent point in her great “How can we win” video using a Monopoly analogy. If two people are playing Monopoly, and person A gets to have 300 rounds first, then person B starts, person B can never catch up. This redlining example is just one.
Bottomline: When you point to dramatic increases in fatherless homes, or increased crime rates (as Ben did in this video as a reason for why there is wealth inequality), but refuse to address why those things are happening, you’re left with this—you have to believe that fundamentally Black people are just lazy, less intelligent, and incapable of doing well for themselves. As opposed to the fact that maybe hundreds of years of oppression, legal systemic racism (i.e. Jim Crow), actual racism, media portrayal of whites vs blacks (which affects how people relate to them), psychology, and the human need to survive a hundreds-year-old oppressive system, has a severe and lasting effect on a community.
His explanation for implicit bias is that one study shows that black-sounding first names (e.g. Lakeesha) do indeed result in lower cases of resumes being picked; but another study showed that historical black LAST names (e.g Jefferson or Washington), get picked just as much. WTAF! In what universe does Washington or Jefferson empirically sound like a “black” name? I tell you. In zero universes. He’s trying to make the case that the name issue is more about class than race.
When he supposedly debunks the disparity between black and white salary, he points to studies that show that Blacks tend to go for majors that overall pay less. <sigh>This guy pisses me off so much! WHAT ABOUT STUDIES THAT SHOW THAT WITHIN THE SAME CATEGORIES OF JOBS THERE IS A DISPARITY?! Meaning, all things being equal, a black engineer, statistically speaking, will earn less than a white one (and a female will earn less than both). He, again, CONVENIENTLY ignores this, but picks out this nuance stat about Black people being steered towards lower-paying majors, and THAT’S why there’s a disparity. He completely refuses to address discrepancies and disparities within an industry. (I can speak from personal experience on this salary issue!)
He also makes a point to say that the racism video doesn’t address what college a person goes to. Well, Ben, the ability for Black and Brown people to go to higher centers of education like the Ivy League schools is nowhere near on par of that with white families who have decades of family history and connections that POC don’t have.
Incarcerations and the classic straw man
When he addresses the issue of incarcerations near the end of the video he says:
First of all, systemic racism absolutely has a HUGE effect on the penal and judicial system in this country. Everything from implicit bias, to the types of drugs targeted in the drug war, to the criminally imbalanced and unfair sentences placed on minor offenses. And due to laws like “3 Strikes,” a young man who gets busted for, say, 5 grams of marijuana, might make a plea deal for a reduced sentenced that gives him 2 of his 3 strikes (e.g. possession and intent to sell). Now, when he gets out, he’s labeled a felon and can’t get work or a place to live (or finds it extremely difficult, because felons don’t qualify for government-assisted living). He may find himself in a situation where he sells again or commits a non-lethal robbery to survive after X-number of months or years being turned down job after job, apartment after apartment. So boom! Strike 3, and he’s served a massively long sentence for another relatively minor offense. This leads to a fatherless home, which leads to issues with his children, and the cycle continues. All of the information I just referenced is meticulously detailed and explained in Michelle Alexander’s excellent book “The New Jim Crow: 10th Anniversary Edition” as well as Ava DuVernay’s Netflix documentary “13th.”
That being said, Black people do not think that every Black person in prison is there due to racism. We’re not stupid. We know there are some people who damn well are guilty of crimes deserving of punishment. But we have a system that treats all these people and crimes the same (or similar) when it comes to Black people. And that’s the issue, Ben. So, please, stop saying things like “there are many Black people who don’t commit crimes and become congressman or President.” We know this. But BECAUSE of the systemic racism that you are trying so desperately to disprove, the issues that result in the unfair disparity continue.
In July, Ben was on the popular podcast The Joe Rogan Experience, and unlike most college students who don’t have the experience or wherewithal, Joe pushed back on Ben regarding Ben’s assertion that all Black people have to do is make better decisions. Joe makes a point to tell him and have him address the fact that the history of systemic racism and Jim Crow, forcing Black people into a particular impoverished area will have an effect on the kinds of decisions youth in those communities make. When Ben continues to “vomit” his suggestion that an 18-year-old Black person should just not “pick up a gun and shoot somebody” (with respect to how to reduce the incareration of Blac people) Joe tells him:
It is quite enjoyable seeing Ben squirm and slow his 1,000 mph yammering when faced with a “slow-talking,” calm, and relatively educated interviewer who understands the complexities of what’s happened in the Black communities. All Ben can do is continue to spout his insensitive, very privileged advice.
In Ben’s “debunk” video, Ben goes on about how there are plenty of people who choose to run and choose to vote (as opposed to picking up a gun a shooting people). He says that’s all an aspect of American freedom. Again, he makes comments like this, with the presupposition that because there is no systemic racism, the ability for all Black and Brown people to vote in this country is 100% on par and as easy as all the white people. THIS IS INSANELY FRUSTRATING! The whole reason we had the Voting Rights Act was because of systemic racist policies that lead to voter suppression. And when this conservative Supreme Court negated some of the strongest parts of the VRA (specifically Section 5), we saw a return to voter suppression practices in many communities in the south.
Ben’s non-solution solutions
At the 13:45 mark of Ben’s video, he addresses when the original video says “What can we do?” It suggests being aware of your implicit biases. Ben then makes a point to say, “Sure, this is a good idea, but to suggest that something as vague as having a bad thought about a group of people is the reason for income inequality, is an absurd contention in the absence of any available evidence.” I SWEAR, I WANT TO REACH THROUGH THE COMPUTER AND SLAP THIS GUY.
We can never definitively prove if a company’s hiring practices are implicitly biased. All we have to go by are historic stats and the commonality of stories among marginalized groups. There are hundreds of stories by women who talk of men that get promotions and raises for being aggressive in the workplace, whereas when women do the same thing, are labeled bossy or problem (I personally have seen this in a recent job too). The same goes for people of color.
We can see the stats of companies’ hiring practices over the years. If for 10+ years, a company’s C-suite has been comprised of white men, we have to assume that either A) no women or POC have ever been qualified, or B) there possibly is an implicit bias based on decades worth of media and racist beliefs. But it can’t be definitively proven. So to people like Ben, there is no “available evidence.”
When the video addresses that remnants of slavery and Jim Crow affect POC today, Ben agrees that those remnants are plausible. He then says that we need specific laws today that we have to target. And right there is the problem. He, and those like him, summarily dismiss the deep-seeded effects of these systems over 400 years. Effects of how POC are treated by others, and how they even look at themselves. At what children are taught for generations upon generations that creep into their hiring practices when they become older. There may not be a specific law you can pinpoint, Ben! But to ignore the effects of that indoctrination prevents change from happening.
At the end of the video he’s critiquing, it encourages everyone to look for systemic solutions and to fight systemic racism. It’s done in a very peaceful, compassionate, and approachable tone. It’s not angry. It’s not even accusatory.
Yet Ben’s whole demeanor is one of “this is just some political ploy to push Democratic policies he claims have failed for years.” (Again, ignoring the fact that for a good chunk of those years, pure Democratic policies were faced with Republican opposition when both houses were controlled by the GOP.)
At the end of the day, he acknowledges we shouldn’t ignore history, but that we also shouldn’t attribute every problem to systemic racism. THIS NARRATIVE IS THE PROBLEM! POC are NOT saying EVERY problem is due to systemic racism. We’re saying many are, and many big ones are. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that. Yet, every time we try to acknowledge the problem, people like Ben Shapiro, Dennis Prager, and Candace Owens, go out of their way and invest SO MUCH TIME AND ENERGY to FIGHT against those of us pointing out disparities between the majority and the marginalized. DISPARITIES WE SEE AND FEEL WITH OUR OWN EYES, OR ON OUR OWN NECKS! It’s like they get a high (or orgasms) off of debunking any evidence given.
Think about it. What is he trying to gain by taking all of this time to tear apart a video that is trying to make life more equitable for people who have been marginalized for centuries? Why? Why go to all this trouble to disprove racism in a country where racist structures empirically exist. For crying out loud, we have a President fighting to keep Army bases named after Confederate soldiers and keep the Confederate flag and Confederate statues standing. AND WE’RE SUPPOSED TO BELIEVE WE’RE IN A POST RACIAL SOCIETY! Again. Ben. GTFOOH!
By the time we get to the end of the video, we know EXACTLY why this video, which as of this writing has 2.6M views, was made. To sell his f-ing book, which naturally is based on every lie and half-truth he spewed for nearly 17 minutes.
At the end of the day, which one of these videos do you find more trustworthy: the one that is made by reasonable, compassionate people who provided a sound and strong basis for serious and systemic issues in this country? Issues that are resulting in the death and economic disparity of marginalized people. OR, the rich, self-absorbed, empirically hypocritical Right-wing talk show host selling his f-ing book?
We will not be gaslighted!
The best way to deal with people like Ben Shapiro and his followers is to stay educated. Read books. Listen to podcasts like The 1619 Project. Read sites like AllSides, which will give you links to articles that address topics from a far-left, center, and far-right perspective. Question everyone, even people with whom you would normally agree.
Instead of spending any more time giving Ben Shapiro videos views, why don’t you sit down and spend time watching the fine (and funny) work of Cody Johnston and team at Some More News? His breakdowns of systemic racism and his takedowns of Ben Shapiro specifically are both wildly entertaining, while at the same time extremely educational.
I long for the day when Ben Shapiro will be forgotten and his legacy will be that of a divisive, misleading, propaganda-supporting, racist blow-hard, and grifter.
This post was previously published on Equality Includes You.
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Photo credit: Ron Dawson