Alice: The question is whether you can make words mean so many different things.
Humpty Dumpty: The question is which is to be master – that’s all.
A racist is someone who believes that:
each race or ethnic group possesses specific characterisitics, abilities, or qualities that distinguish it as inferior or superior to another such group.
That is what the Oxford English Dictionary says and so, as a matter blog policy, it is what I go by.
But that puts me at odds with both anti-racists and most White Americans who have changed the meaning of the word to suit their own ends.
White Americans seem to think that a racist is someone who says the n-word in a mean way (but not in a “friendly” or “joking” way), is in favour of the Klan, maybe has a Nazi flag on his bedroom wall, etc. Skinheads, neo-Nazis, Stormfront and all those. By narrowing the meaning of the word they have – presto-changeo – made themselves not racist!
What they mean by “racism” is the old Jim Crow racism that the civil rights movement publicly shamed on American television coast-to-coast in the 1960s, making it rare now in respectable white circles. But what has taken its place is a more subtle form of racism, which I call colour-blind racism. The colour-blind racist says he does not see colour – until you want to marry his daughter. He does not hate blacks so much as look down on them.
A colour-blind racist hides his racism under three layers of niceness (or maybe just one thin layer) and maybe throws in some politically correct words for added measure, but deep down he is still racist in the good old Oxford dictionary sense. How do we know? The numbers show that racism still goes on in housing, education, unemployment, marriage, etc.
Whites are taught that racism is bad. They pride themselves in not being racist. So when you call white people racist they get upset. They think you mean the Jim Crow sort.
To me racism is what it is in the dictionary: a set of beliefs – like communism or Platonism. When I say someone is racist I am doubting their thinking, not their character. And, nine times out of ten, the racism in question is not the ugly, old Jim Crow sort but the new, subtle colour-blind kind.
At the other end are the anti-racists who say:
racism = prejudice + power
But they are also changing the meaning of the word. And, in any case, I do not buy it, but that is another post.
Some say I am watering down the word, but how? I am the one who is sticking to the meaning of the word. If it turns out that most people are racist, then so be it. No point in fooling ourselves about it by changing the meaning of the word.