rac•ism [rey-siz-uh m]
1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others.
Lately, the word racist has been thrown around, seemingly without thought as to what the word really means. The Tea Party has been accused of having a racist element. Shirley Sherrod was prematurely accused of having racist views, prompting the NAACP, White House and news media to overreact based on incomplete information. And accusations of racism have been thrown on the immigration debate like gasoline on a fire.
Some call those who disagree with President Obama’s policies racists, though many of the complaints lodged against Obama are not so different from those against Bush, and the criticisms from the right (and far left) are no more vitriolic today than what was expressed by the left toward Bush in his eight years—and even today.
I believe many of us have prejudices—we form unfavorable/favorable opinions or feelings based on our experience with a person or event, and we take those feelings and make decisions or form opinions about others.
Prejudice is a two-sided fence. On one side of the fence is the person who holds the prejudice. And on the other side is the person against whom the prejudice is held. The important thing to consider, and what I think is often missing today, is that it is the responsibility of both individuals to change the prejudice, sometimes even more so up to the person against whom the prejudice is cast. Prejudice is a kind of ignorance, and ignorance must be unlearned, or re-taught. Who better to re-teach?
But instead of unlearning or re-teaching, we call “racist!” We see it everywhere these days: “Gotcha! Gotcha! Gotcha!” But it gets us nowhere.
Though I can’t deny racism exists, according to the definition above, few are truly racists. Just because we disagree politically, does not make either side racist. Just because we can’t agree on policy, does not make either side racist. Just because we don’t understand a person or culture, does not make us racist. Ignorant prejudice—though also wrong—is not racism.
We toss racism around because there is hardly a word more inflammatory or hurtful. But for us to continue to carelessly cry “racist” is to water down the heinous nature of real racism.