Letter to the editor: False Dilemma Fallacy

Chimes File Photo

Chimes’ File Photo

Dear Chimes,

Joseph Kuilema’s op-ed, “Putting racism, white supremacy and white privilege in context,” offers a challenging and thought-provoking perspective on his topic. Although I value and profited from Kuilema’s essay, I, as a longtime teacher of written rhetoric, must take issue with a statement in Kuilema’s opening paragraph: “It must be clearly stated that those who deny white privilege functionally believe in white supremacy, whether they have the courage to write it on a car or not.”  Here, Kuilema commits a blatant “either-or” (a.k.a “false dilemma”) fallacy, offering no alternatives beyond accepting his position or being a functional believer in white supremacy. As much as his essay merits our sober consideration, Kuilema, because he lacks omniscience, is not qualified to dogmatically categorize all those who disagree with his perspective as “functionally believ[ing] in white supremacy.” Nor does his brief essay succeed in proving that dogmatic statement. My concern here is not to deny white privilege, but rather to point out the danger of the kind of rhetorical bullying Kuilema indulges in, a tactic that, in my perception, serves to stifle objections to his thesis by demonizing those who might challenge it.


David Urban
Professor of English
Calvin College