In recent weeks I’ve seen a significant uptick in debates where people seem to take the view that their uninformed opinion on racism, civil rights, and police brutality are of equal weight to an informed opinion. That just isn’t the case. This is a somewhat long post, but I’ll try to be as brief as I can without skipping anything important.
A couple of years ago I hurt my shoulder in a martial arts accident. I could tell something was quite wrong right away. I was unable to pickup my children, or even lift my hand above my head without pain. So, I went to my doctor. He said that he thought there was something torn, but that I would need to see an orthopedic specialist. I was given a referral to an orthopedic doctor who was an expert when it came to shoulders. After a few minutes of talking to me, that orthopedic doctor said he was pretty sure I had torn the labrum in my shoulder. An MRI proved the doctor correct, and I had surgery. My shoulder is essentially good as new and I’m back to martial arts with no restrictions.
The reason I mention that story is because it really illustrates a point that some people are missing these days. One person’s ignorance is not as good as another person’s knowledge. When it comes to shoulders, I don’t know much. I’m not a doctor. I didn’t even know what a labrum was until the doctor told me that I had torn mine. It would be nonsensical to think that my thoughts or opinions on my shoulder injury were worth anything in comparison to the orthopedic doctor’s thoughts and opinions. Even my regular doctor’s opinions on my shoulder were greatly surpassed by the specialist doctor’s opinion. That makes sense, as a doctor who spends all day working on shoulders should be the most knowledgeable about that part of the body.
Getting back to the issue at hand, during these last few week issues of racism, police brutality, and civil rights have been discussed more widely than at anytime in the last 50 years. There have been massive protests, some riots, curfews, and real changes to the law enacted in response. That has also caused a lot of people to develop and share opinions on the subject.
I’ve had several people I know express opinions on racism, policing, civil rights, protests, etc. In many of those cases, the opinion expressed is the sort of superficial opinion that could be expected from someone who lacks education and experience on subject. Just as I had friends with no medical experience who expressed disagreement with the orthopedic doctor’s diagnosis and treatment of my shoulder, I now have friends who lack any knowledge or education on this issue loudly proclaiming ridiculous things when it comes to the civil rights issues gripping the country.
There are a great many things in the world that I don’t know much about. But I do know a good deal about racism, policing, and the law. I’m black, and my earliest memory of the police involves a cop falsely accusing my parents of shoplifting a baby carrier from a toy store. That toy store didn’t even have the baby carrier that my parents were using to hold my sister. I’ve dealt with racist cops throughout my personal life, and have had those cops make up false traffic charges. I’ve dealt with racism in school, and at work. The last time someone called me a racial slur to my face was this year. Professionally, I’m a lawyer and have seen the racial bias in our criminal justice system. I have represented clients in civil rights cases against the police. I have studied this area of law extensively, both in law school and in the decade since then. This is an area where I am an expert. While my opinions on medical matters, plumbing, roofing, boating, and a whole host of other areas are worth nothing, when it comes to criminal law, police misconduct, and racism, I know what I’m talking about.
We would all do well to recognize the limits of our knowledge and ability. Just because a person is entitled to hold and express their opinion, it doesn’t follow that their opinion has much (or any) intrinsic value.