The “Twinge of Fear” Parlor Trick

Walter Williams discusses this comment made by Hillary Clinton:

I mean, if we’re honest, for a lot of well-meaning, open-minded white people, the sight of a young black man in a hoodie still evokes a twinge of fear.

I think that even Williams misses the point on this one.

This common misdirection reminds me of this brain teaser where you are instructed to count the number of passes made by basketball players wearing white shirts. You then intently focus on this task and pat yourself on the back for getting the correct answer: 15, but then it asks, Did you see the gorilla?  Huh???

You then re-watch the video and discover that during your intense concentration to complete the assigned task you missed that a person in a gorilla suit walked through the picture.

Clinton’s statement is similar. She leads with “white people”, just like the brain teaser’s instruction leads with watching people in the white shirts.

In the brain teaser, this causes you to focus on one set of players and ignore everything else. In Clinton’s statement, it instructs you to focus race out of the four identifying characteristics.

The four identifiers she uses are:

  1. Young
  2. Black
  3. Man
  4. Wearing hoodie

So, if the picture you get in your head from that description gives you a “twinge of fear,” then it’s because even you have deep-seated racial biases that you should feel guilty about, or at least that’s what Mrs. Clinton — using her parlor trick — would have you believe.

I had a similar conversation with a friend that I wrote about here. He used the same parlor trick.

You may get a “twinge of fear” after picturing that description, but race has little to do with it.

If the twinge of fear was primarily about race then Mrs. Clinton could have said, “the sight of a black person still evokes a twinge of fear,” or “the sight of a black woman still evokes fear” but she didn’t, for good reason, because those sights would not not evoke fear in many people and her parlor trick wouldn’t be nearly as effective into making you believe that you harbor racist tendencies, when you do not.

What evokes the fear is the sight of young man in a hoodie. That young man could be white, black or Latino and still evoke a “twinge of fear”. Why? Because we associate young men and hoodies with thug behavior. That’s not racism. Perhaps it’s thug-ism, but not racism.


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