Friday, June 26, 2015

My view on the usage of a word: racist

I'm deeply disturbed by commercial media's (broadcast and web) usage of the term racist, and I write this commentary with the hope of inspiring awareness among my friends. It is true that racism is, at least, one of the most profound and relevant problems facing our society here in the US. And I will say this right up front--although activism is important, one of the fundamental lessons we must all learn is how to speak the language of racism. The media's incessant harping of the word "racist" is doing insufferable damage to our ability to metabolize this language. And here I will attempt to explain, in my view, why.

Without going into an extended monologue summarizing our country's history of racial injustice, I think we can all agree deep and painful wounds have been self inflicted on our culture that must be dressed and healed. Now it's important to recognize, this inequity has been, over hundreds of years, institutionalized within our civilization. It has become a part of the narrative, how we understand ourselves. These institutions have even in some cases become enshrined by law, and the law of the land. And it has come to pass that the very core of our civilization is shaped by those self sustaining structures. Structures which have the effect of oppressing and privileging whole classes of people based (really) on nothing more than popular mythology.

So, I hope you understand how profound the issue of racism is, and how using the word 'racist' to label an individual is deflating and trivializing the conversation. There is of course a correct usage for the term, but it should not be confused with words like prejudice and bigotry. Yet that is exactly what our overly glorified media has been doing! I actually heard a person with the title PhD suffixed to their name say "Are there racists, yes; is racism a problem, no." I'm not interested in verbally flagellating such obvious incorrectness but rather to underscore the depth and significance of the harm that can be done by misusing these words. That a person with such a prestigious title cannot see the import in reserving the term racism for focus on the systemic, even tectonic issue at hand is, frankly, discouraging.

Please consider this deeply, take it to heart. Scorning bigotry is not the best way to battle racism, structurally embedded racial inequity. We must come together and spend time learning the language of racism. We must be able to talk to each other about this most subtle and often painful problem. We must learn to identify patterns and structures in our most secure and reverently held norms, patterns that result in discrimination and oppression of some while extending privilege to others. It is not an easy task, and inciting emotionally charged responses through the misuse of language will only cause more harm.

No comments: