Monday Mirror Moment: The Good-Bad Binary

Jul 13, 2020

The Good-Bad Binary


Definition: The belief that being a good person and being complicit with racism are mutually exclusive.

Key Point: This belief is WRONG—these two truths can exist outside each other.

Background: Following the civil rights movement era, many people believed that only intentionally malicious acts of extreme prejudice were classified as racist and that only bad people committed those acts. The most effective adaptation of racism—the good/bad binary—became a cultural norm, operating to make it effectively impossible for the average white person to understand—much less interrupt—racism. The binary approach functions to take race off the table and exempt the person from any further engagement, protecting the current racial hierarchy. It doesn't have to be intentional, but the impact of these narratives is defensiveness and ultimately inaction.

To Watch

Why "I'm not racist" is only half the story (6:33) Robin DiAngelo | Big Think
Video Link

Voices from the Imaginary Roundtable

Many scholar-activists talk about the good-bad binary and its more here from DiAngelo, Kendi, Tatum, Russo, Brown. 

Reflection Questions

  1. How does the good/bad binary view of what it means to be racist show up in mainstream ideas and public discourse? How/where do you see it being challenged?
  2. What are the implications for you, personally, of debunking the good/bad binary?
  3. How does the good/bad binary impact how we talk about historical or contemporary figures?
  4. Have you ever been called racist? How did it feel? If you haven’t, how do you think it would feel? How might these feelings function to actually uphold and protect racism?
  5. How does the good/bad binary impact your willingness to look at your own racism with other colleagues or confront racist practices in your institutional settings?

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