When it comes to generalizations of the form ‘X do Y,’ it’s perfectly reasonably to respond with ‘Not all X do Y.’ And I think most people know this. Now, in some cases this may not be the appropriate response, in the sense that it might still be true that most X do Y (e.g. most members of the KKK are anti-Semitic, even if there’s a handful that aren’t). But in many cases people seem to object to the ‘not all X do Y’ statement, even when there’s a sizable subset of X that do not, in fact, do Y.
The problem is that some of the same people who came out after the Paris attacks with their ‘not all muslims’ defence, will become angered if a male says ‘not all men’ in response to some misandrist remark that purports . So let’s give a brief recount of some things that are not true of all members of a group, starting with those I think most leftists would agree with, moving down to some that may annoy the regressives among them.
- Not all muslims are terrorists.
- Not all muslims support sharia law.
- Not all African Americans are criminals.
- Not all males are misogynists or rapists.
- Not all whites are racists. For that matter, not all cops are racist, either. In fact some cops are reverse racist: they are extra careful around non-whites to avoid any possibility of seeming racist.
Even in some cases where most of a group may hold to a particular viewpoint, the ‘not all’ caveat is still often useful. For example, ‘Not all Americans supported the Iraq war at its opening.’ Of course, as the war progressed, support dropped drastically, but at the beginning it enjoyed majority support, to the best of my knowledge.
The particular problem, of course, is that by making generalizations and then refusing to admit that they don’t apply to all members of a group, a person comes off being just as bigoted as those they are usually targeting. This is a particular problem among regressive leftists of all flavours.
As a suggestion, it is usually better, or more accurate, to talk about official positions of groups rather than what individuals within those groups believe. For instance, not all republicans are anti-choice. However, the GOP official position is anti-choice. So, ‘Republicans are anti-choice’ is true as a statement about an official position of the part, but not as a statement about all people who identify as members of that party.
There’s nothing wrong with using language in a manner that is convenient. And often, statements like ‘X do Y’ are simply used for convenience. But the response ‘In fact not all X do Y’ is a perfectly valid one and in some cases, is one that really needs to be underlined.