The New "N-Word"
This election cycle was one of the most divisive in recent memory. This can mainly be attributed to Donald Trump in the inflammatory rhetoric he introduced into the discourse. A word got thrown a lot that contributed to the division we are experiencing now. That being the topic of racism. The word racism gets tossed around a lot and the actual concept (that being the negative prejudices and acts of discrimination levied against a specific race) can also be easy to follow. However, the discussion gets complicated when applying the issue to our everyday lives.
One of the main issues with calling something racist, specifically when referring to one’s words or actions, is that words and actions can have several motives behind it. While a white person may lash out at a person of color for any number of reasons, it can be easy to look at it as racist if the person of color is the only person in the room or the reason for lashing out may not be as serious as the white person is making it out to be. It’s for this reason that we often call out racism when it’s not even there.
One of the biggest issues with racism as it applies today and delegitimizes it as a valid criticism against people is that white people are seemingly the only people who can be guilty of it. While from a semantic point of view this may be correct since racism as an institution (at least in this country) has mostly been to benefit white individuals. This is not to say all white people have benefitted from racism, but racism in America has rarely benefitted people of color on a broad level. However, with the recent incident’s in Chicago and Idaho, I think we can all agree that all people no matter the skin tone, can hold negative prejudices against any race and commit acts of hate against people of that race.
The other problem with this discussion is that being called a racist, is now considered the one of the most deplorable kinds of people to be, up there with murderers and child molesters. Saying something is racist now is the moral equivalent of calling somebody a Nazi, and people labeled as racist are treated as such. This can be a problem because it shuts down the discussion on one side and acts as an ad-hominem attack on the other side.
Through My Eyes:
I believe there are three things we can practice to open up the discussion and actually heal as a nation:
No matter what, keep having the conversation- a lot of people keep saying “talking about racism is a lot like picking at a scab, if you keep picking at it, it will never heal!” This argument is akin to saying that we should have stopped the civil rights discussion after slavery because the law was over and done with and we would never get anywhere by going back to it. But we all know lynchings were legal until the 1920’s and black people weren’t afforded the full right to vote until 1965. That being said no problem goes away by ignoring it. You have to continue to work on solutions, even with people who disagree with you.
Listen to all voices, even to those who aren’t personally affected- One thing that has always bothered me is that whenever the subject of “White Privilege” is expressed, it is always explained by a person of color. Which is not to say people of color cannot articulate this concept, but if you strictly state that white people have a privilege that others don’t without even talking to them to figure out how their lives are, you are no different from a white person who claims that racism doesn’t exist simply because he does not see it happening to them or others.
Don’t be so quick to call someone racist…. but don’t take it so harshly if you are- Racism is complicated because there is a spectrum to how bad it can be. There are actions and statements that are clearly racist that should be called out and there are some actions and statements that are trivial or tame that were clearly not racist, or at the very least, not meant to come off as racist. With this, we have to be careful that minor acts of racism that offend us don’t take up more of our time than it should. On the other hand, if someone calls something racist or discriminatory, do not take it as an insult right away. This can be an opportunity to learn and listen to somebody who may disagree with you.