Thursday, February 11, 2010

Define Your Racist: Twelve Examples

Yesterday, I had to say something on John Mayer, and I did so in the post "John Mayer Reveals His Authentically Racist Self." After seeing how people--in one case even one of the black women he named--extended their hands to say "I don't think John Mayer is racist," I began to ponder what that meant.

However, I don't fault people for not wanting to say anything bad about people they like. That's the way we're raised and we're raised to know that to be racist is a bad thing.

Nevertheless, it occurs to me again that America is moving toward making the word "racist" another forbidden word. Unhappy with the "N" word, and now the Special Olympics "R" word, plus the other "N" word, we're moving on to add yet another "R" word, "racist."

Yes, America, I am concerned, and so, I woke up this morning and wrote the following on Twitter via TwitLonger.
RE John Mayer > Oddly, people debate whether he is racist but agree with little debate that he is sexist as though to identify Mayer as "racist" is as bad as him using the "N" word or labeling his penis David Duke. On sexism we say if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, it's a duck. But if it walks like a racist duck, then we debate hearts and intent. Do Americans understand what the word "racist" actually means? (Posted at TwitLonger)
I've gotten a definite impression, as I implied in comments on another post, that many Americans in today's popular culture think the word "racist" means a person who comes to your house and burns a cross on your lawn or lynches your husband, and rapes your daughter for fun. We associate the word racist with these extreme acts of terror, but the word "racist" in its purist sense means simply a person who thinks his/her race is superior to other races in the same way the word "sexist" means to think that one's gender is superior.
The word "racist," because of hate groups, has come to mean more the equivalent of the word bigot as in it's associated with extreme hate and intolerance. People think racist is to race as wife-beating misogynist is to woman or Nazi is to Jew. That, however, is incorrect. Racist is to race as sexist is to woman, which is why "hatred or intolerance of another race or other races" is number three on the definition of "racist" not number one.

We've done an exceptional job of making people feel guilty and afraid to be called racist, to get all wound up in a knot if the word is uttered against them, and by extension to fear examining whether what they do or think is racist the same way the devoutly religious are afraid sometimes to acknowledge they've felt lust or anger. Instilling that fear was probably necessary to make some of the strides in Civil Rights that we've made, but now it's time to grow up and understand what the word "racist" means. Only then will we have any chance of stepping into the mythic land of Post-Racial America. (Nordette in comments at BlogHer)
In addition to fear of calling a white person "racist," I'm hearing from some of us that black people need to stop having knee jerk responses to the word "nigger." I agree. We should be intelligent enough to examine context. Who knows, if Mayer had stopped at "nigger" pass, given the point he was trying to make, I would have chalked what he said up to imprudent use of irony. But he didn't. He added to the fire that his penis was white supremacist.

But many times we must look at context before we throw a hissy fit. For instance, if we encourage a banning the word "nigger" mentality no matter what the context, then what will we do with this poem by Harlem Renaissance writer Countee Cullen, "Incident"? How will we learn to evaluate the works of Zora Neale Hurston? Should we toss out Mark Twain? Can we grasp the point in Taalam Acey's "Market for Ni$$as"?

That said, what is going on in the American psyche that it now takes affront at use of the word "racist"? I see people redefining common sense methods of identifying a person as "racist" as "resorting to name calling." So, I say, "While it's true we need to stop having a knee-jerk response to the word "nigger" and consider political or literary context, it's critical that we do not start having knee jerk responses to use of the word 'racist.'"

Reserving the word racist for only the ugliest of white supremacists is an errorabsolute nonsense. Can't we use more than one part of speech? There are different levels of racism, even different types: paternal racism, blatant racism, conscious racism, and subconscious or repressed racism. So, try adjectives when you use the word "racist" and establish to what degree a person is racist.

Define your racist! Here are a dozen types of racist just off the top of my head.
  1. "Oh, yes. He's nice. He doesn't know he's offensive, and his lover is black. He's a subconscious racist."
  2. "Yeah, Limbaugh pretends he's never said anything racist. He's a venom-spewing, Wiley Coyote racist."
  3. "She's acknowledging white privilege and its influence on her life. Many white people are recovering racists."
  4. "Girl, please. David is a card-carrying, skin-head-KKK racist. Look at his tattoos!"
  5. "We must give Bill credit. He's very polite. It's hard to see how he feels about black workers because he's a poker-faced racist who doesn't want a lawsuit."
  6. "Mary walks on eggshells around black people. She's afraid she'll say the wrong thing. She's a self-fearing racist. She's scared if she says the "n" word, she won't be able to stop."
  7. "Who, Glenn Beck? That crazy-ass racist!"
  8. "Do you want to get yourself killed? Stay away from Bubba. He's a lynching racist."
  9. "She thinks she's funny, but she's just another insensitive, joker racist, who should not be confused with "ironic/tragically hip racists." They "really think they're down and empathetic, but they wallow in their entitlement and privilege" (H/T to Brownstocking.)."
  10. "No, Sarah Palin doesn't know anything about black people or their history and contributions to America. She can't see 'em from her house. She's a pretty ignorant racist."
  11. "Sen. So-and-So will gladly support redlining for campaign contributions, Voter-ID too. He's a political whore of a racist."
  12. "Ah, Joe. He romanticizes his Confederate heritage and wishes he were married to Scarlett O'Hara. He's a rose-colored-glasses racist."
I know. I know. The word "racist" makes some white people go insane with guilt. So, believe me, I get the whole communications tactic and wisdom presented in the following video from Jay Smooth, "How to Tell People They Sound Racist," which advises us that we should concentrate on behavior and not labeling people even when we know the person should be labeled "racist."

I love that video and applaud the advice.
Tip for my white brothers and sisters: Stop defending yourselves on this topic. Even when you feel in your heart that you are not a racist, try these words on for size, "It's possible I have some racial conditioning that I need to wrestle. I'm working on it." What can your critic say to that but, "Okay, but please work faster and more quietly."


brownstocking said...

I feel you, and I've been commenting @ BlogHer. I have decided, and maybe it's the "dirty laundry" or "present a united front" idea burned into my psyche, but when people of color defend racism, or say they weren't offended, I'm just going to not comment on it. I can't help the way they feel, they can't understand the way I feel. I just feel disappointed. I won't invalidate you; but I'm not being overly sen-see-tive as one poster wrote at another blog. Because racism is more than Klan robes.

Oh, and you should add in the "ironic/tragically hip racist", which is sadder than the jokester racist, because they really think they're down and empathetic, but they wallow in their entitlement and privilege.

Thanks for writing this.

Vérité Parlant is Nordette Adams said...

Ha! I totally forgot the hipster racist. That's the category Mayer falls into actually. I may have to update that with or ... :-)

Thank you for the visit and comment.

Lovebabz said...


Danielle Ricks said...

Absolutely enjoyed reading your post!!! You brought up some great points that I'll be quoting for some time... giving you credit of course!

PPR_Scribe said...

Oh gosh, this is so good! We could go on and on:
*accidental or "oops" racist
*I-was-just-drunk racist
*racist with cause (Woman once told me she had a right to be racist because the man who raped her was Black)
*We're-all-just-a-little-bit-racist racist
*Academic racist (working in higher ed, I am exposed to many of these--They're not racist; they're just citing the data...)

Vérité Parlant is Nordette Adams said...

Thank you, Danielle and Lovebabz.

LOL PPR, those are great and professors crossed my mind when I was writing this. I've met quite a few academic white supremacists. They'd never got to KKK meeting, but they do think black people are inferior to white people and cite data as they see it to tell you it's okay.