Want to have a dialogue on race? Stop labelling others “racist”.

Sign for "colored" waiting room at a...

Sign for “colored” waiting room at a Greyhound bus terminal in Rome, Georgia, 1943. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unless of course they are white Aryan supremacists or KKK members or anyone else that clearly believes that their “own ethnic stock is superior,”  as a 1969 dictionary simply defined the term.

While blatant examples of racism as reflected in the picture to your right have disappeared in the U. S. after the mid-1960s, it is often argued by black opinion leaders and white liberals that plenty of racism still exists:  it is just not so obvious.  But it can be found hidden in measures that are rationalized on separate grounds.

I agree that this is sometimes the case, but do not agree with the tendency to respond to the more subtle racism of our day by applying the word to any issue that contains a racial component and to anyone who might disagree with one’s own perspective on race and democracy.   As clear cut racism has faded, it seems that everything with a racial element gets cast as racist by some liberal TV pundit or commentator somewhere.

Labeling another a “racist” is akin to the Puritans branding a woman’s dress with a  scarlet “A” signifying adulteress.  It is today’s liberal version of castigating someone as a secular sinner.   When branded a racist whatever relative points one has raised are ignored as the speaker is deemed not worth listening to.  Nothing is a greater  impediment to the ongoing call for a national dialogue on race than the overuse of the word “racist”.

Lets return to the definition of racism, this time relying on the current dictionary.comRacism:  “a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others.”

I highlighted the last part because the belief in superiority allows one to rationalize the  “right to rule others.”   That is the racism that excused our destroying the world of native Americans while fulfilling our “manifest destiny.”   It was also the racism that underlay the Confederacy including the rationale that white rule was not only good for whites, but better for blacks as well because it included paternal caring (in theory at least) for the slaves as opposed to the callous way northern factory owners treated their employees.

Sorry if I am being a bit tedious here.   But, I believe it important to define clearly what the meaning of “racism” has been so as to apply it as a litmus test to assess the validity of its present usage in any  given context.

While writing the above I have had an example in mind.   About a week ago Richard Cohen wrote a piece in the Washington Post basically arguing that “profiling” is not in itself racist while applying that to George Zimmerman’s suspicions about Trayvon Martin.

He was quickly tarred and feathered verbally by many commentators as a racist.   Whatever you might think of his argument, I would argue he is not a racist, an assertion I will support in my next post.  In the interim, you might want to decide for yourself by reading Cohen’s piece through this link.


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