I noticed something years ago that I have only hinted at in any conversation or writing. Nor had I thought it through much beyond formulating a single sentence, one very uncomplimentary to a group of people. Nope. Not gonna say that. Not even gonna think about it. But recent events have put a new twist in it, so I was wandering paths on the other side of that fence without noticing. I saw very quickly that while my observation was mostly accurate, it didn’t mean what I thought it did. Had I fearlessly pursued the uncomfortable thought in years past, I might have seen the additional meanings long ago.
Conservative sites will sometimes point out how lily-white many liberal organisations are, despite blacks and Hispanics making up almost 40% of Democrats. They frame this as white liberals actually not respecting blacks and Hispanics as much as they say, but I have thought that much of this is due to rates of volunteering. You don’t tend to see many African-Americans at environmental events, nor Hispanics at antiwar and antiglobalisation events. You might see black women at women’s events, yet they nearly always put themselves in a Women of Color context. For the issues where there is overlap, the pattern still holds. African-Americans come out for police, school, or housing protests mostly in the context of their own race or neighborhoods. Hispanics will show up for immigration protests of various sorts, but black people generally not. Hispanics aren’t there for the gun control protests, by and large. LGBTQ+ events are largely white, though efforts will be made to get people of color involved by leadership.
Professional athletes and their coaches, plus the people who write about and interview them, get very involved in issues of special concern to young black men. It doesn’t often get mentioned.
There is an interesting exception to this that I had not thought of that I will get to in a bit. But for now, it’s easy to see how one might draw an uncomplimentary conclusion about all this. I didn’t want to go there, so I just hoped there was more to this than I was seeing and didn’t think about it. Yet the Hong Kong/PRC dispute has turned all this around. International issues have come crashing in, interfering with the money stream, and social justice looks different. It is also clear that if someone had tweeted about Brexit or Syria or Venezuela no one would have cared, or even noticed.
I tried to contrast this with conservative behavior, but my thought experiment didn’t give me the result I expected. The pattern holds in conservative advocacy as well. Not entirely, and not in the same way. I will try and tease out some differences, but the first thing to note is that conservatives often stick to a very narrow circle of causes as well. The 2A people write about gun legislation and anti-gun foolishness, and will sometimes bring in larger issues of Constitutional interpretation or natural rights. Many will touch on military and respect issues as well. But they aren’t the same people as those going to the prolife or anti-tax or statue-saving events. They may wish them well, but it’s not their issue, and this works in the other directions as well. The Tea Party was unusual in being essentially a tax protest that attracted support from many other conservative, libertarian, and unaffiliated causes.
So it’s not just black people who do this, it’s everybody who does this. People are more likely to come out when it’s their neighborhood, their schools, their kids. Except for white liberals who like the advocacy life, who go to lots of these things and get the word out for each other even when they can’t attend themselves. Enough of them care about all of these enough to provide a pool of available resources. They rely on a core of people funded by nonprofits, so these actions are in some way part of their job (you can tack your cause onto a larger event without upsetting too many people), so standard business and customer service issues are changed. Alternatively, they are students, who have many elements of independent living prearranged: no lawns or repairing steps, less food shopping, overtime, traveling to find friends or entertainment, fewer pets, fewer bills. They both are less likely to have children. They are the anomaly. I will note that there are likely conservative activists who fit this profile as well, who make it their life and show up for everything, and sometimes figure out ways to get paid for it.
One large exception is religious events, which would be dear to my heart, anyway. I think black and Hispanic people show up for lots of those. Those may not make the news as much, creating a false impression of levels of participation. I haven’t given the matter much thought. It usually takes time to form an impression. I could look up surveys and statistics, but I don’t know how much I would trust any. It would be so easy to overcount some actions and undercount others. But once the idea is in your head, you start to look at photographs of events or gravitate to articles about the subject, and if you get lucky, you can find a cache of people who have studied this and thought about it a lot and can save you some time understanding it.
I think differences remain. Supporting general causes that one believes in is different from supporting causes where one can see a direct benefit. Yet I don’t know how heavily to weight that, or what unexpected angles will show up. I do think both extremes of this - narrowly self-serving justice and wildly expansive cosmic justice - are much more common in liberals than conservatives (and libertarians are really in this conversation, though I have only fragments at this point). Yet this is prime self-blindness and confirmation bias territory, so I think I'll refrain from conclusions just yet.
At the moment, what I know is that there was a road I didn’t want to travel because I didn’t want to find reasons to be annoyed with minorities, but I find upon further review that it’s the white liberals who seem to be the outliers, and the whole topic is worth keeping in mind, rather than getting shoved away. I don't think this is well-explored, and the surprises behind many rocks and bushes have yet to be found.
Feel free to start with the conventional wisdom, because even that may be less certain than supposed. I suspect there might be wilder disagreements than expected.