I just saw a post with someone saying: “Jesse Smollet is clearly racist…” detailing the offenses he is now accused of. They include filing a false police report, and creating a public disturbance. If guilty, the man needs to go to jail.
But “racist”? Really? By what precise definition you find honest and useful?
There is basically one I find to be both: “To attribute differential worth or capacity on the basis of race or ethnicity.”
Get that? You think that X’s are better than Y’s. It isn’t “I hate them”. It isn’t “I don’t have any Y’s as friends” or “I’ve never dated/married/worked with/love Y’s.” Not “I prefer to hang out with X’s.”
It is that you think one group is smarter, better, more honest, or whatever, based on innate genetics or spiritual qualities. That’s it.
My favorite question for flushing them out in America? “Under the same historical circumstances, would white people have been as damaged by slavery, and had as much trouble healing?”
If you can answer that question with an immediate and enthusiastic “yes,” racism is not your issue.
If you waffle, complain that the question is unfair or theoretical, shift the conversation to “Irish slaves” or Jews or whatever who functioned well under some analogous circumstance…I am not willing to trust that you aren’t a racist, because in my experience you can expect a wide variety of other political and philosophical attitudes hat cluster around that end of the spectrum. You may be a wonderful, intelligent human being, but you don’t get to discuss race on my threads. There is nothing to be gained.
I saw Jordan Peterson play some games with this. He defined “Racism” as “attributing the qualities of an individual to an entire group.” That means that unless you think ALL Y’s are Z, you are not a racist. Which means that no one is a racist, because everyone knows an exception. That is bad enough, but then he went on to say his was the ONLY definition. The OED would argue with that, and so would I.
It is a useless definition, good only for obscuring one’s actual attitudes. Well…I suppose that means it is useful, to a particular type of person. But we’ll leave that for another time.
So there we have it. Society has agreed that “racism” is bad. So the answer isn’t to be honest about those attitudes and root them out, or identify the people who cling to them and isolate them, or even merely to be aware that they are part of the voting public and compensate for the damage they do and the degree to which they put brakes on social change. The answer is to con people into changing the definition.
Get that? Don’t change yourself. Change the language. Problem solved, right? Racism is over! Because NOBODY actually attributes the characteristics of an individual to an entire group. Fake News, indeed.
By the way, this goes for the other side too, IMO. Conflating “institutionalized racism” with “racism” to say that you can’t have this particular toxicity if you are in the underclass is a slight-of-mouth technique. It allows you to “other.” The problem is “out there,” not within the human heart itself. The problem is in the mirror. There is no “them.” There is only “us” in the final analysis.
One soul, looking out through many eyes.
So…be careful how you play with words. Be sure you are willing to really live with them.
- Is it true? Does it define and explain an observable phenomenon?
- Is it useful? Does it help us understand the past, cope with the present, and predict a path to a loving, and healthful future?
- Is it kind? Are you defining something to use as a bludgeon, carefully trimming the words until they fit a specific box that absolves your group of the need for introspection? Are you “Othering” them, suggesting that they are corrupt, evil, stunted, soulless?
My definition, the OED’s definition, does all of those. It doesn’t demand thinking racists are evil, although racism has led to some of the greatest evils in human history. It is a perspective. A belief arising fairly naturally from the dualistic mind, the “X is greater/less than Y” mind that is so common among even good and intelligent people.
I try not to judge people for thinking this way, in part because it is so difficult to separate it from “tribalism,” which is the preference for one group over another
To clarify my usage, then:
“Tribalism” is cheering for the home team.
“Racism” is actually believing the visiting team are bums.
“Violent Racism” or perhaps “Bigotry” is willingnesss to knee-cap the quarterback.
Back to Smollet, shall we? Current thinking is that he did it to pimp himself for a raise on “Empire.” In which case he tried to gain sympathy for himself by making it seem we was the victim of a racist attack. He was, definitely, assuming people would believe that Trump voters are racist. Does that say anything about the average white person? Let alone “all” white people. Nope.
Being willing to exploit racism isn’t racist. It is cynical, opportunistic evil.
What if he was motivated by pure politics? Wanted to strike against MAGA? Again, is he saying something about the average white person? All white people? He might well be thinking that the average PERSON is stupid enough for him to get away with his fraud, but that’s a contempt for humanity, not for one racial group.
Whether Smollet is a racist, whether he thinks (for instance) white people are, on average, inferior mentally or morally is a separate question. He may. I’d estimate 10–20% of people have a belief that “theirs” are better than “those others.” We’re polite about it, but man, it runs deep, and is the social version of “my dog is the smartest, my mommy the prettiest, my daddy the strongest.” Nothing unusual.
So…watch out for people jiggering definitions so that they are useless for anything but bludgeoning the other side.
You just can’t trust a jigger lover.