Actual Subhead: "With the word being used so often, it's harder to define its meaning."
Actual Article Opening of Story from the AP:
Everybody's racist, it seems.OMFG. How many straw-arguments can be fit into five paragraphs?! Well, at least 10.
Republican Rep. Joe Wilson? Racist, because he shouted "You lie!" at the first black president. Health care protesters, affirmative action supporters? Racist. And Barack Obama? He's the "Racist in Chief," wrote a leader of the recent conservative protest in Washington.
But if everybody's racist, is anyone?
The word is being sprayed in all directions, creating a hall of mirrors that is draining the scarlet R of its meaning and its power, turning it into more of a spitball than a stigma.
"It gets to the point where we don't have a word that we use to call people racist who actually are," said John McWhorter, who studies race and language at the conservative Manhattan Institute.
1. "Everybody's racist, it seems."—This, of course, doesn't mean what I said here, which is that everyone raised in this culture is de facto racist because the culture is so steeped in racism. What it means is: Every person ever ZOMG! is being totes accused of racism! Racist claims everywhere! Willy-nilly! Racism! Racism! Racism! Everyone's a racist according to people who are totally stupid! And that is a straw-argument. Not "everybody" is being wantonly and randomly accused of racism.
2. "Republican Rep. Joe Wilson? Racist, because he shouted "You lie!" at the first black president."—No, Wilson has been accused of being motivated by racism because he has a demonstrable history of associating himself with racist organizations and symbols, and because it seems like a mighty strong coincidence that a white Congressman who unapologetically affiliates with racist organizations and symbols would have a wildly disrespectful—and unprecedented—outburst during the speech of a black president. "He's white and he yelled at the first black president" is absurdly reductive of the complex argument underlying the charge of racism against Wilson.
3. "Health care protesters, affirmative action supporters? Racist."—I've not seen anyone anywhere actually accuse all healthcare protesters of being racist. Certainly, plenty of people have quite rightly noted that the protests have had incidents of overt racism, and that the intensity of the protests, the violent hatred of the president, is disproportionate, quite obviously because of his race. To deny that evident reality is to deny a 200+ year national history of white mob violence against "uppity" blacks. Of course there are people who object to Obama's policies for reasons other than his being black; but there are also people who object to Obama's policies because he is black, or object to them in a manner they would not if he weren't black. The only people saying, "All healthcare protesters are racists!" are rightwingers who are deliberately misconstruing a legitimate argument about the relationship between incendiary/violent rhetoric and racial animosity.
4. "Racist. And Barack Obama? He's the 'Racist in Chief,' wrote a leader of the recent conservative protest in Washington."—That's just the unqualified recounting of a straw-argument.
5. "But if everybody's racist, is anyone?"—Ah, the old "if racism is that ubiquitous, it must not even be real" canard. Straw-argument.
6. "The word is being sprayed in all directions"—Another straw-argument. It is not "being sprayed," which connotes nonspecific targets, in all directions. There are people who "spray" accusations of racism all over the place, like throwing shit at a wall just to see what sticks. But responsible commentators, especially among social justice progressives, are not "spraying" accusations of racism, but painstakingly demonstrating patterns of historical racism and teasing out the cultural memes and narratives that underlie the rhetoric and actions they've identified as racially-motivated. That ain't spray; that's scholarship.
7. "creating a hall of mirrors"—The "spray" doesn't create the hall of mirrors. The media's refusal to distinguish between "spray" and scholarship does.
8. "that is draining the scarlet R of its meaning and its power"—There are about half a dozen different straw-arguments at play here, but the one on which I'll focus is the assertion that charges of racism only work if racism is a dirty word; it can only be effective as "the scarlet R," or a badge of shame. That is a straw-argument. In fact, the more that people internalize the idea that all of us are socialized to be racists, and can express that racism (against and within multiple ethnic/racial minority groups) even without realizing it, the more likely they are to be not defensive and open to accepting criticism on that basis, which makes them more likely in turn to examine their internalized prejudices and let go of them. Which is ultimately a much more effective way of tackling racism, meaning that we should be making racism a word we all use matter-of-factly, instead of treating it like "the scarlet R."
9. "turning it into more of a spitball than a stigma"—Same straw-argument, different clause.
10. "'It gets to the point where we don't have a word that we use to call people racist who actually are,' said John McWhorter, who studies race and language at the conservative Manhattan Institute"—Well, aside from the fact that I'd argue it's more useful to talk about actions as racist, rather than people as racist, yeah, we do still have a word we can use to call people racist: Racist. But the word isn't supposed to be used as an insult. It's supposed to be used as an opening salvo for a discussion on how someone is engaging in disordered and irrational thinking, rooted in fear/hatred/bias.
The problem isn't that "racism/racist" are being used too much; it's that they're being used wrongly. And generally being received wrongly, too. It's not a silencing technique; it's the start of a conversation. Or, at least, it ought to be.
But this entire article is, instead, one long complaint that "racism/racist" just can't be used to embarrass the hell out of anyone anymore. And if it can't, what good is it?