An impromptu part 2.
“Racism” is what we call a loaded word. Once you use it, all parties involved get heated. It’s not just that people get defensive. “Racism” tends to push the other half of the conversation to the offensive, too. Case in point: this weekend I started talking about immigration. But once race got involved, I wasn’t just talking about immigration. I was talking about systems and NAFTA and Haiti, and finally, global warming. This pushed the person I was debating to counter my argument with “You just can’t trust statistics. I mean, its science. Nothing is set in stone.” Once race was introduced, we weren’t just arguing for our opinions on immigration. We were both defending ourselves.
Accusing someone of racism is the same as calling them a bad person. Racists hang people from trees and destroy lives, and have no respect for human dignity and equality. Not many people want to be that. But we have no general vocabulary for dealing with the little racial prejudices that everyone needs to own up to. And so when someone points out to a woman that she laughed at a racist joke, she thinks she’s being compared to Hitler, not just being told to check herself.
This brings us back to yesterday’s problem: if we can’t use “racism” in a useful, constructive conversation, how do we talk about race, or the bigger picture of other -isms that includes racism?