If you have been watching the news and following the discourse on the recent protests, you may have run across a recent video made by a woman named Candace Owens.
Candace Owens is a conservative black woman who has recently gained press and social media coverage for her support of President Trump, her criticism of Black Lives Matter, and her urging of black Americans to leave the democratic party and to reject the liberal platform. You can read more about her here and here.
She has recently gained national attention for a video she made in which she criticized what she sees as hero or martyr-worship of George Floyd, and in the video she explains, among other things, why she doesn’t support George Floyd and the recent protests over his death. You can watch the video here.
Glenn Beck recently re-posted Candace Owens’ video, and then the President retweeted Beck’s tweet with the Owens’ video. You can read more about this here. (I should note that both Owens and Beck criticize the way the police treated, Floyd, after which they then comment about Floyd’s character–namely that it wasn’t good character—Beck briefly and Owens at length. Owens originally posted the video to FB, and it has been making its way around.)
Does Candace Owens’ Recent Video Refute the Current Protests?
There are probably many reasons people have been sharing Owens’ post, but one of the ways I have seen it shared is as a refutation to the current protests, which, by and large, are not only a protest of Floyd’s police-related death but are a protest of systemic racism present in the police force and the United States as well.It appears that Candace Owens herself seems to believe her points in the video refute, in some way, the current protests.
I would like to point out that Candace Owens certainly has a right to share her beliefs and offer alternative views of the current protests. And we should at least be willing to entertain different views on public matters when these views are promoted by people who sincerely care about the issue at hand and about solving it.
Having said that, Candace Owens’ recent video is not a refutation of the current protests, and, in fact, it seems to miss the point of the protests and trail off into irrelevant subject matter. I would like to explain why.
At the beginning of the video, Owens criticizes the way in which liberals have made Floyd a martyr. It is important to note that Owens does not give any examples of people claiming that Floyd is a martyr or any sources that refer to him as such. This point especially concerns me because a large portion of my friends and colleagues (black, white, and Latinx) are participants in the current protests in some way or another, and I have never heard any of them refer to George Floyd as either a hero or martyr. Rather, they remind everyone that Floyd was a human being like you and me with hopes and dreams and struggles and that he did not deserve to die the way he did—that no one does. Especially he did not deserve to die that way because of the color of his skin.
But, for the sake of argument, let’s grant Owens her point. Let’s say that she is indeed correct and that some, perhaps many, protesters have referred to Floyd as a martyr. We might ask, “What do protestors mean when they call Floyd a martyr?”
Do Protesters Portray George Floyd as a Martyr? Does it Matter?
People use the word martyr in different ways in common discourse. Probably the most common and formal definition of the word martyr is that a martyr is someone who dies—often painfully through torture—for his or her religious faith. According to this definition, Floyd is not a martyr, as his death was not in any way related to religion, as far as we know.
People also use the word martyr colloquially to refer to someone whose death is symbolic of a larger struggle. And if protestors use the word martyr in this way, there is evidence to suggest that Floyd certainly was a martyr, insofar as his death is symbolic of the larger struggle against racism in our country, specifically systemic racism in the police force.  I will return to this point shortly.
So, it seems that it may, indeed, be appropriate to refer to Floyd as a martyr in the colloquial sense.
But, for the sake of argument, let’s pretend for a minute that that protestors have made a mistake and are referring to Floyd’s death in the more religious sense. Or let’s say that we decide that all colloquial use of words is very bad and a corruption of the English language and that they must stop. Even if we pretend for a moment that all these things are true (which I don’t believe they are), this is not justification for dismissing the concerns of the current protests.
To say they are would be to make the following argument: “When people misspeak or misuse language in their demands for justice, such demands are immediately invalidated.” If we follow this argument to its logical conclusion, it would result in absurd scenarios like this one: You go to court because someone crashed into your truck while driving under the influence. You demand that they pay to replace or at least repair your truck. But during your testimony, you accidentally refer to your truck as a station wagon (because that is your other vehicle), and so the judge dismisses your case as invalid because you used a word incorrectly.
Of course, this scenario is absurd.
And that’s the point—people’s demands for justice are not invalidated because they use a word incorrectly while expressing their demands. To suggest they are, as Owens seems to, is a red herring—a logical fallacy someone uses when he or she distracts from the issue at hand by focusing on another issue which is vaguely related but essentially irrelevant to the matter at hand. And that is the problem here: Owens introduces a red herring argument when she suggests that the demands for justice in the current protests should be ignored because the protestors incorrectly refer to Floyd as a martyr.
Another Red Herring
Unfortunately, this is not the only red herring argument Owens uses in her video. One of her other primary points is that George Floyd was not a good man. Owens’ implication, it appears, is that we should not protest the manner of his death (although she does say she hopes he and his family get justice) or that the current protests, and outrage over police-related black deaths in general, are invalidated. I think she means the second one. (You can read about her comments on Floyd here.)
This argument is also a red herring. Instead of focusing on people’s concerns about Floyd’s death—that it was motivated by systemic racism–it focuses on Floyd’s alleged misconduct: He had a counterfeit twenty dollar bill in his pocket during the time of his arrest and also, it appears, cocaine in his pocket. He also may have been high during his arrest, and he had recently spent some time in jail.
Let’s say that all these alleged misdeeds of Floyd are true, and let’s say that Floyd was indeed a bad person.This does not entail that unjust actions perpetrated against him do not deserve to be criticized and addressed. Owens admits this herself in her critique of the officer who killed Floyd. And if such unjust actions against a person form a part of a larger pattern, then it is completely appropriate to present this person as one example of the many people who have suffered the larger pattern of injustice.
And that is what current protestors are doing.
Of course, the critical question right now is whether Floyd’s death is an example in a larger pattern of systemic racism. I have written more here, here, and here,, presenting statistics and evidence why this is so. I would also like to present two examples of white people doing illegal and violent things that underscores the frequent disparity between the way the police treat white and black people.
You might remember Brock Turner. He is a twenty-year-old man who raped an unconscious woman. No one disputes the details of this case. Did the police kneel on Turner’s neck or shoot him when they apprehended him? No. They apprehended him without violence, and Tuner was released from jail after six months of incarceration, much to the pain and suffering of his victim.
You might also remember Dylan Roof who shot nine black people at a church meeting for a prayer group. After a sixteen hour manhunt, the police apprehended Roof. Did they kneel on his neck or shoot him? No. They apprehended him without violence and made a stop at Burger King on the way to jail.
What is Systemic Racism?
We can use these two examples to explore the concept of systemic racism. I think that when people hear folks accusing the police of systemic racism, they think people are suggesting that the police have all gotten together and decided that they don’t like black people and that they are going to systematically hunt them down and destroy them.
Systemic racism is much more subtle than this, and good people can harbor racist ideas and stereotypes without realizing it. When we harbor racist ideas (e.g. about black people), we often possess unconscious stereotypes that all (or most) black people, especially black men, are criminal, savages, immoral, predatory, lascivious, and violent. And we assume, on the other hand, that white people are generally law-abiding, peaceful, moral, sexually commendable, and safe. (You can read more about black stereotypes here and here.) These racial stereotypes began, of course, during the time of slavery in our country, and they have never gone away.
When we fail to reflect on and correct such unconscious stereotypes, this can cause us to act in discriminatory, unjust, and violent ways, even unconsciously, towards black people.These stereotypes are exacerbated when we work, live, go to church, and are friends with primarily white people who never challenge, and who even reinforce, such stereotypes.
All of this becomes especially dangerous if we are the police carrying weapons, permitted to use deadly force, who regularly find ourselves in tense situations. It becomes even more dangerous when we have not had training in reflecting on our unconscious stereotypes and adopting measures of de-escalation to resolve racially-charged situations.
Such a state of affairs in the police force can lead to situations in which a white person who raped an unconscious woman is released after serving six months in prison, and a white man who just shot seven black people in a church is taken to Burger King, while a non-resisting black man who has a counterfeit bill in his pocket is suffocated to death.
It also results in situations in which a black woman, like 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, an emergency medical technician involved with no crime, can be shot and killed by police while sleeping peacefully in her bed at night. You can read more about this here.
Police had been investigating a drug operation a few doors down from Breonna Taylor’s house. Apparently, they obtained a no-knock warrant to search several surrounding houses. Breonna Taylor was not a person-of-interest in their case. Nevertheless, the police said they suspected that she may have allowed friend to store drugs at her house. So, in the middle of the night, they burst into her house while Breonna and her boyfriend were sleeping.
Her boyfriend, not knowing who had entered the house, fired a gun in self-defense. The police fired back and killed Breonna Taylor. The police had their body-cam videos turned off during this incident.
If you are a white person, I would like you to imagine this happening to you. Imagine that you are a hard-working U.S. citizen minding your own business. Imagine that you have a neighbor a few streets down, and unbeknowst to you, your neighbor is trafficking drugs. Also unbeknownst to you, the police are watching your neighbor, trying to stop his drug trafficking business.
One day, they see you talking to your neighbor. You often exchange pleasantries with all your neighbors. One of the officers becomes suspicious that you are perhaps hiding drugs in your house for your neighbor, and they obtain a warrant to burst into your house in the middle of the night in SWAT gear while you and your family are sleeping. Can you imagine this?
I can imagine the first part of this scenario because it happened to my husband and I when we first moved into our neighborhood. We had a white neighbor who, unbeknownst to us, was selling drugs. We exchanged pleasantries with this neighbor frequently, as we did with our other neighbors.
One day we looked out our window and saw him being arrested by the police for (as we later discovered) selling drugs. By the way, he, my white neighbor, was arrested peacefully. No one knelt on his neck and suffocated him. And no SWAT team burst into our house in the middle of the night while we were sleeping, even though we lived right next door to this operation and had exchanged pleasantries with our neighbors regularly.
Imagine the headline: “White Philosophy Professor Shot Dead in Her Sleep by Police Officers because of Unknowingly Living Next Door to Drug Dealer” It is really hard to imagine a headline such as this. (And by the way, the police do behave inappropriately to white people sometimes, too, and there are certainly instances of police abusing their power with white people. However, research suggests that black people are killed by the police at a much higher rate than the of white people, and many of the black people killed in these instances are not resisting arrest in any way.)
Meanwhile, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are dead. Why? Because white America collectively holds stereotypes about black and white people’s character and how they should be treated, and the stereotypes are deadly for black people. And these stereotypes sometimes exist consciously, but often unconsciously, in schools, churches, neighborhoods, the judicial systems, individual consciousness, and the police force.
That is what systemic racism is. Systemic racism does not mean that the people who suffer from this problem actively express hatred for, and an explicit desire to destroy, black people, although it can mean this. Systemic racism means that there is widespread unconscious stereotypes in various institutions (and the people in them) that lead people to excuse unjust and immoral behavior towards minorities.
And this brings me to my last point about Candace Owens’ video.
Protesting Injustice vs. Defending Criminality
Towards the end of her video, Owens argues that black people are the only race that defend the criminal element of their race. This argument is also a red herring. Both black and white people (as well as other races) are currently protesting black deaths, not because they don’t want black people to be punished for crimes. They are protesting because they do not want black people, many of whom have broken no crimes, to be harassed, unjustly imprisoned, and killed because white people, whether consciously or unconsciously, harbor racial stereotypes against them. They also want law enforcement to be held accountable and for police and judicial procedure to apply justly to black people and in the same way it is to white people.
Dear White Person (Like Me)
I would like to close this post by saying that if you are a white person who watched the Candace Owens video, I’m glad you listened to a black person, especially a black woman, share her views on racial issues. I also want to ask you to consider that if you only listen to black voices who echo the views you already possess, then you have more work to do.
You need to listen to a wide variety of black voices, and you especially need to listen to black voices that force you to examine unconscious stereotypes you may hold. I believe you truly care about black lives. I also believe you understand that you may have faults that you may be unaware of. All of us do. And I believe that if you realized that the shortcomings you unknowingly posses were hurting other people, you would work to change them.
If all these things are true about you, and I believe they are, then you owe it to yourself and black people to listen to a variety of black voices. And you owe it to yourself and black people to reflect on ways you may harbor unconscious stereotypes about black people and unknowingly support institutional practices that do the same. I do, too. Let’s do this work together.
If you are interested in listening to the voice of another black woman, you might enjoy the book All All About Love by bell hooks.
If you enjoyed this note, you might also like this one:
About Oppression, White Privilege, Racism and Justice: Why Oppression Harms Us All
Lastly, I would like to express sympathy to Candace Owens who has been trolled a lot by liberals. I have been trolled by liberals, too, Candace, despite being pretty liberal myself. Being trolled is no fun, and I do my best not to troll anyone in my posts.
 These protests have been going on for decades. One of the most notable protests recently were the peaceful protests by Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players that were especially aimed at protesting police brutality. You can read more about this here. By the way, these peaceful protests were largely ignore or derided by various people, including the President. The NFL commissioner has recently come out in support of such protests.
 If you would like some resources to study these issues, you might enjoy reading W.E.B. DuBois’ The Soul of Black Folk, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, and Angela Davis’ Are Prison’s Obsolete? You might also want to watch the movies Selma and Just Mercy, both of which are available to download for free during the month of June.
 I think Owens means to imply that liberals are trying to deceive everyone—black and white people. I would like to point out that if Owens is, indeed, implying such a claim, it is an unreasonable generalization that lumps all liberals together into one category; assumes that they all have the same view about race matters; and suggests that they have joined together in some secret pact to make everyone think the same way they do, evidence be damned. I am not sure what else it could mean to say that liberals are trying to trick everyone. If you would like to read more about why such claims about both conservatives and liberals do not make sense, you can read more here and here.
 I use the term alleged not because I doubt that these details are true but because I am not the investigator handling the case. Indeed, I have read all these details in the news reports I have read of Floyd’s death, and believe they are likely all true. I also believe they are irrelevant, for reasons I have explained above.
I would like to point out that neither Owens nor any other human being has the knowledge required to make a final judgement over whether someone, in the totality of their life, is a good person or not. Someone can make horrible decisions at the beginning of his life and go on to repent and turn his life around. By the same token, someone can live a life committed to doing good for others and, in a moment of weakness, make a bad decision. Someone can also live a horrible life and then, at the very end, repent of his wrongdoing and have a radical change of heart.
This is, I believe, the case of the thief who was crucified on the cross next to Christ and had a radical change of heart in his encounter with Christ. (See Matthew 27). So, while we can judge a person’s particular actions as immoral or bad, we must be very careful when judging whether a person as a whole is bad or not. And even if were able to judge the person as bad or immoral, there is no moral or religious system that teaches that this permits us to act immorally towards him.
 I mention this characterization of systemic racism because Owens makes an argument similar to this in her video. She suggests that protestors claim that the police hunt down black people. It is very possible that some protestors make this claim, although I personally have not heard such a claim. Rather I hear protestors and anti-racists describing systemic racism in the way I discuss it later in this post.
If you would like to better understand how unconscious stereotypes of black men, especially stereotypes of lasciviousness, can result in brutal violence, I recommend you read this article about Emmett Till. Please be aware that this story is very, very sad, and this article contains violent details. So, you only want to read it if you are prepared for this.
Here is another example of this. Ahmaud Arbery, a young black man, was shot while he was out running by two white men who chased him down the street in their truck. Their excuse was that there had been robberies in the area lately, and Arbery had been trespassing on private property. It appears that while on his run, Arbery had indeed stopped by a building construction site and walked onto it briefly, leaving shortly afterwards and taking nothing with him.
For this, he was shot. I, on the other hand, without thinking about it, recently trespassed on private property and was not shot. My husband and I are likely moving to a nearby town in the near future. Recently, we were in this town, and I saw a house I liked that was for sale. Without thinking about it, I briefly walked up the driveway and peaked around into the backyard and then left. Much like Arbery did. Nobody said boo to me. Arbery was shot for a similar action.
As another example, a black man named Christian Cooper was bird watching in a park in New York when a woman walking her unleashed dog came in his general vicinity. Cooper asked her to leash her dog, per the park rules, and the woman (who was white), pulled out her phone and told him that she was going to call the police and tell them a black man was threatening her life. Cooper caught the whole thing on his camera phone, a recording which clearly shows him not threatening her life in any way. You can read about this here.
 By the way, very few police officers have ethics training, let along training in recognizing and overcoming racial stereotypes and deescalating racially-charged situations. You can read about this more in this book.
And for the record, Dylan Roof has been sentenced to death.
And to be completely accurate, at this time I wasn’t yet a professor. I was on my way.