Warning. This post contains words that some may find offensive.
The word “racist” gets used a lot. More than it used to be. I use it to display when actual racism is taking place, hoping that someone might notice what the word actually means. The job gets more difficult as language becomes meaningless.
Merriam Webster defines racism as “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race”. That’s the way I interpret the word. A racist would be someone who has that belief.
Recently, and by that I mean over the last decade or so, a new definition has come to light. Check out this definition from the “Urban Dictionary”: “If you’re a white man, this is what you are. It doesn’t even matter if your wife is black and you have an adopted child from India, or how many black friends you have, somehow you’re going to end up being a racist according to how the media portrays the white man as “racist whities”. All of this is funny because the white man is the one that is stereotyped as being racist, which is hypocrisy at its best. It’s racist to assume that white men are racists( emphasis mine). If you don’t get offended by racial insults, then you’re apparently racist too, but an actual racist would get offended by it. When you hear a certain word too much (I’m sure we’ve all heard “cracka” hundreds of times thanks to standup comedy) then you become desensitized to it.” This appears to be the new standard.
In the early 90s Spike Lee said “Black people can’t be racist, only white people are racists”. That has slowly turned into “White people are only racists” as in “All white people are racists”. As suggested by both the Merriam Webster and Urban Dictionary definitions, such a statement would in itself be racist.
The new definition of racism is that it requires prejudice and power, so “racism” is institutional. By that definition, individuals couldn’t be racists, but never mind, this wasn’t ever going to make sense. Just because I’m white doesn’t mean I have any power. To assume such would be racist.
The real truth is that like any other insult, the actual word is meaningless. Which is sad, because real racism does exist, and there’s no way to identify it.
Think about profanities. Wouldn’t any father be a “
Motherfucker“? Unless you take the time to think that the phrase initially referred to Oedipus. Other curses have developed into similar non-insulting meanings.
I was recently taken to task by a person who felt insulted by my use of the word “racist” in the blog titled “vegetarians”. She felt that I had misapplied the meaning. I thought that being Korean was a race, and that attacking Koreans for their cultural practices was racism. I was surprised, because I was under the impression that the word is so often misused and overused that no one took it as an insult anymore. You can read the conversation on that thread. She was certain that no animal rights person could be a racist. That’s the kind of blanket statement that could be interpreted as racist in some applications.
One of what I would call the benefits of the Obama administration is the dilution of the word “racist”. After calling everyone who didn’t vote for Obama a racist, and then calling all Republicans racists, they had called enough people racists that were most definitely not racists, the word meant next to nothing. That is not necessary a good thing, it would be nice for words to have meanings so we could communicate, but losing an insult might be a step in the right direction. Most recently the democratic chairwoman in Louisiana, a woman who most probably has actually encountered racism in her lifetime, made the following statement.
So racism is about disagreeing with one policy of one man. That seems to be about as far from racism as you could get, if the word wasn’t just a reworking of “Cracker”. It’s just an insult, a sound without meaning other than “I don’t like you”. The card has been played so many times that it is the only thing transparent in this administration.
We’ve done the same thing with other words, “Retarded” used to mean “Slowed”, so that “Mentally Retarded” was a clinical term. Calling someone retarded as an insult became so common that people who were actually retarded became insulted. Sorry, but that’s genuinely funny. The term will be changed in the ICD-11, and has been changed in official usage, but in ten or twenty years that word will be used as an insult as well. “Homophobe”, a term I’ve never felt portrayed its meaning properly, has become so politicized and overused that it has lost meaning, which was “anti-homosexual” and not actually “afraid of homosexuals”. We’re getting there with “terrorist”.
I prefer that words carry meanings, otherwise communication becomes more and more difficult, but insults fall into a category of undefined exclamations, like “ouch”. They should be regarded as having just as much meaning.
You’ll know if I intended to insult you. I use the word “Wanker“, because I like the way it sounds. And because it really annoys one particular wanker.