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Racism is the belief that certain races are inherently superior to others, and therefore should dominate. Racism is the belief in racial superiority and supremacy.

Racism is not "looking at things through the prism of race" -- as the right would have it. Racism is not the mere discussion of race. One is not a racist if he or she, for instance, talks about the 2nd amendment's roots in protecting slavery. The discussion of that topic does not even remotely imply that one believes in the inherent superiority or inferiority of any race. Obviously.

Racism carries such a hugely dark, ugly and horrifically negative payload because it is an attempt to establish a false biology. There is, in fact, no such thing as "race". Genetically speaking, we are One. We are one people. One species. One genus. It is a social construct, and one of fairly recent vintage, going back no more than a few hundred years. It is a social construct created by some who, naturally, put their own "race" at the top of the heap. Oh how convenient!!

It's a bit like having blue-eyed people determining, for everyone else, that people with blue eyes are necessarily and inherently the smartest, most virtuous, most industrious, etc, etc.

By separating people based upon false biology, and then attaching some form of "biology is destiny" to that, the racist attempts to legitimize discrimination -- or far worse -- based upon a seemingly immutable characteristic. They are also saying that this goes beyond politics, religion, emotion, belief. This is set into scientific stone -- to the racist.

Continued below the fold . . . .

Now, for the dicey part, the part that will no doubt piss off many here.

Being "racist" does require intent. It just does. That's the whole point. That's why it actually matters. The reason why it is such an ugly, ignorant, despicable, dark and gutter-low thing is intent. It does require the belief in the inherent superiority or inferiority of races. If someone says something that is "offensive" to others, then it's offensive and deserves rebuke. But "racism" is in a whole other league. Far, far worse; far, far more dangerous; far more sinister and potentially destructive. If we view all "offensive" things said to X, Y or Z in America as "racist", then we run the risk of diluting the power of subsequent critique and rightful rebuke to the nth degree. We basically cancel out the power of the rebuke by leveling the playing field between the "offensive" and the "racist."

It's a bit like saying that anyone who criticizes the Israeli government is automatically "anti-Semitic." Now, of course, the person doing the criticizing may well be an anti-Semite. But criticizing Israeli government policy does not, itself, necessarily show that, much less prove it.

There's a difference between saying something that is "offensive" and saying something that is racist. The latter is a massive step up into the sinister and dangerous. And, obviously, doing things based upon racist beliefs is far, far worse still. There is also a major leap between actions based upon "offensive" beliefs and actions based upon false biology. And the difference can be a matter of life and death.

And now for perhaps the most contentious of truths. Racism is not "prejudice plus power". Power has no role whatsoever in determining what is or is not "racist." To claim it does lets too many people off the hook for their own ugly beliefs, and needlessly complicates a very straightforward pathology. Power does, of course, determine if racist thought can be turned into racist action. Obviously. A racial majority holding power can impose racist beliefs, as is our history and our present. A racial minority with state power can impose racist beliefs on a majority, which happened under South African Apartheid.

But anyone, in any situation of power relative to others can be a racist. All they have to do is believe that races are inherently superior or inferior. All they have to do is believe in racial superiority and supremacy. If this were not the case, if racism really were "prejudice plus power" then some poor backwoods yahoo without two nickels to rub together couldn't be a racist. Or someone locked up in jail, considered an enemy of the state, totally isolated, alone and obviously "powerless" could not be a racist. And you can play with whatever minority/majority construct you want to with that one -- or place it into any nation or political construct whatsoever. It will always come up the same. The sickness, the pathology itself is not determined by power relations -- though its effects and potential damage are. It is determined by a set of beliefs anyone can hold.

IMO, the reduction (if not the elimination) of "racism" in America depends upon a better understanding of what it is and what it isn't. It does require intent and anyone, literally anyone, can be seduced by its poison.

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Comment Preferences

  •  if I step on your foot (18+ / 0-)

    does it hurt any less if I didn't mean to do it?

    yeah, that's about how much intent matters when discussing whether something's racist or not, to the person who thinks that thing is racist.

    This comment is dedicated to my mellow Adept2U and his Uncle Marcus

    by mallyroyal on Wed Apr 17, 2013 at 12:57:13 PM PDT

    •  another question: (5+ / 0-)

      is it your position that everyone who believes

      in the inherent superiority or inferiority of races
      is completely honest with themselves about that?

      This comment is dedicated to my mellow Adept2U and his Uncle Marcus

      by mallyroyal on Wed Apr 17, 2013 at 12:58:37 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Actually (18+ / 0-)

      I would take this analogy further.

      Let's say I accidentally step on your foot.  The first time, I think you would say. "Ow, that hurt."  and I would say "Sorry, that was an accident."

      But after a 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th etc time I stepped on your foot, the accident excuse begins to ring hollow.

      As best I can tell, there are many folks who think that if a statement doesn't show a person is racist THE FIRST TIME THEY SAY IT, it is not racist any time they say it.

      So, if I innocently call my black colleague a boy once, get corrected, and I stop calling him that...I doubt anybody would have a problem.

      But if I persist....well I think there is a big problem.

      "Empty vessels make the loudest sound, they have the least wit and are the greatest blabbers" Plato

      by Empty Vessel on Wed Apr 17, 2013 at 01:10:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Good point about persistence. (5+ / 0-)

        But that persistence points to a belief. If he or she continues to call a black person "boy" after being told why that is so offensive, then it would appear that person is racist because "intent" comes into play.

        They didn't just step on your foot once. They kept stepping on it.

        That's "intent" at that point.

        •  exactly (7+ / 0-)

          So, as far as the current context of this debate, there is simply no argument that referring to Obama's balls hurts people on this site.  Anyone who read that diary now knows, so they have no defense if they continue using it.

          "Empty vessels make the loudest sound, they have the least wit and are the greatest blabbers" Plato

          by Empty Vessel on Wed Apr 17, 2013 at 01:24:26 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Agreed. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Empty Vessel, dharmafarmer

            If you're told that your stepping on X's foot hurts, and you keep stepping on X's foot, that shows "intent".

            That moves it into a different realm.

            •  it can show chronic carelessness. (0+ / 0-)

              or sociopathy.  intent doesn't matter as much as you think, as I said yesterday.

              This comment is dedicated to my mellow Adept2U and his Uncle Marcus

              by mallyroyal on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 08:44:03 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  In your opinion. (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                JohnnyBoston

                To me, it clearly matters. It's the essence of the thing. It's how we derive responsibility. And without a subject for that responsibility, leveling accusations is pointless.

                The need for education never goes away. But accusations need an object of intent.

                And, yes, I definitely believe in social responsibilities, and the power of systems. I'm a non-orthodox Marxist, for goddess sake.

                I believe in the complex of personal and systemic influences, cause and effect, etc.

                That said, "intent" is essential when it comes to the accusation of racism.

                Quick analogy: Though it's changed in recent decades, it used to be part of (at least some) traditional Chinese culture to downplay the looks of newborn babies. To even call them ugly or sickly.  It was done to benefit the baby, to prevent evil spirits from thinking the baby is worth kidnapping. If a person with that cultural take comes to America and does the same when he or she sees a newborn baby here, their speech would probably be taken as highly offensive. Their "intent" obviously wasn't to be offensive in any way, shape or form.

                Unless . . . . it's explained to them, and they understand that, but continue to do it here. At that point, "intent" kicks in.

                •  hmmmm. (0+ / 0-)

                  yes, we're both discussing our opinions here.

                  responsibility for words spoken is carried by the speaker.  ALWAYS.

                  in your analogy:  it's not the onus of the American or European or African or Indian (or, apparently:  a person from a different region in China) to make sure they refrain from being offended when someone ostensibly insults their kid.  c'mon.

                  things can be both offensive (and yes, offensive in particular ways... like racist) and unintended simultaneously.  hence my stance.

                  This comment is dedicated to my mellow Adept2U and his Uncle Marcus

                  by mallyroyal on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 10:29:30 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Nope. It's not racist without intent. (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    mallyroyal, JohnnyBoston

                    Racism is the belief in the superiority of races. It is the belief in racial superiority and supremacy. It is the explication and/or promotion of a false biology and false dynamic, based upon a social construct.

                    Superior/inferior, which once was used to legitimize master/slave.

                    For something to be a racist statement, it must involve that belief in some way. Directly or indirectly. It requires intent.

                    Without that specific intent, if it is "offensive" to the hearer, that's its level.

                     Racism is a higher level of the despicable. It's offensive plus the promotion or explication of that false biology and dynamic -- directly or indirectly.

                    The use of "boy" falls into that realm, obviously, because it promotes the superior/inferior dynamic.

                    When Limbaugh called President Obama a "halfrican", that was obviously racist as well. It was self-evidently used to set up a superior/inferior dynamic, based upon false biology, etc.

                    I just don't see how that works with the third example, though.

                    But, as mentioned several times, I don't use the phrase and never will.

      •  A much more well put version of what I (0+ / 0-)

        was trying to say.

    •  It might not hurt any less but it would take (7+ / 0-)

      it out of the criminal category.  So I think that intent does matter.  Once you get a pretty clear idea that there are tender feet all around you should be very careful where you tread, and one certainly gets tired of being stepped on whether on purpose or not.  

      . On ne gagne que les combats que l'on mène

      by NearlyNormal on Wed Apr 17, 2013 at 01:10:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Intent is everything. (4+ / 0-)

      If I step on your foot by accident, yes, it still hurts. But it's an accident. If I did it on purpose, it hurts the same, but I did something wrong.

      Come on. This isn't rocket science. Without "intent", our entire legal system would crumble.

      For something to be "racist", there must be intent. One must believe in racial superiority and supremacy for it to be racist.

    •  If you ddn't mean to step on the person foot, it's (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      diomedes77, dharmafarmer

      an accident and says nothing about your personality or ideology. It's just an ooops.

  •  Intent? (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Kimbeaux, Miggles, edrie, eztempo, lazybum
    Being "racist" does require intent. It just does. That's the whole point.
    Not really.

    I think it requires ignorance.

    "People should not be afraid of their government; governments should be afraid of their people." --V

    by MikeTheLiberal on Wed Apr 17, 2013 at 12:59:45 PM PDT

  •  You are describing a racist (17+ / 0-)

    That is a person who, intentionally, sees another race as inferior.

    You are misunderstanding the term racism, which can be unconscious; and includes words and behaviors that, while without intent, still have the effect of making a person of another race feel inferior or denigrated.

    "No one life is more important than another. No one voice is more valid than another. Each life is a treasure. Each voice deserves to be heard." Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse & Onomastic

    by Catte Nappe on Wed Apr 17, 2013 at 01:02:55 PM PDT

    •  I think a REAL problem to having constructive, (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      diomedes77, TiaRachel, lincolnliberal

      civil discourse is the conflation of the terms racism and bigotry. Too often something said with the intent of  "you are unwittingly engaging in a discourse based around racist principles" is heard as "you are a bigot."

    •  No. I think you misunderstand. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ChadmanFL, Shifty18, beaky

      Racism is the belief in racial superiority and supremacy.

      A racist is someone who holds that belief.

      No one's words can make you feel "racially"  inferior if you don't buy into the concept itself -- that it even exists. It doesn't. Again, there is no such thing as "race".

      I think you are conflating "words that wound" with something on a entirely different level.

      Like, if someone calls you fat and it makes you feel rotten for a moment. They said something offensive and you, momentarily, felt inferior. But no one can make you feel "racially" inferior if you don't even accept the concept.

      It's kind of like, if someone tells me I'm going to hell. I don't believe it exists, so it doesn't bother me. Now, their saying it is "offensive." But they can't make me feel "inferior" because I don't even accept the idea. They don't have that power over me.

  •  Two words, "white privilege" (17+ / 0-)

    That's a big part of what's missing in the "but I didn't mean it as a racist comment" defense. To many here these comments seem harmless but we can think that because we've never felt the harm in them. Sure, there are levels to racism, someone going all StormFront with it is worse than someone who mistakenly uses a term that has ugly racial implications. But here's the thing -- if you're told about that implications, and you choose to ignore them, you're headed the wrong way. We've been told, in no uncertain terms, what terms are racist. You don't get to make excuses, the terms don't hurt you when you hear them. Learn. Empathize. Understand.

    You can't assassinate the character of any of modern conservative. You'd have to find where it was buried, dig it up, resurrect it, then kill it. And killing a zombie isn't really assassination, is it?

    by ontheleftcoast on Wed Apr 17, 2013 at 01:10:42 PM PDT

  •  I disagree (0+ / 0-)
    Racism is the belief that certain races are inherently superior to others, and therefore should dominate. Racism is the belief in racial superiority and supremacy.
    I don't think this is accurate.  Sure some racism might be a result of this, but I think racism can also arise from jealousy and selfishness.  If one can create a world where one only has to compete with their own race or even a subset of that race, that person has dramatically decreased their competition and in a zero-sum worldview[which has its own problems] dramatically increased their chance of success.

    This probably doesn't address your main points, but this really jumped out at me.

  •  IMO "seeing through a racial prism" is racism. (0+ / 0-)

    You can believe in separate but equal, and it's still racism.  It puts a stereotype on people due to race and burdens individuals.  It's an ism and is harmful.

    But I agree that the attempt to limit racism to those "in power" is wrong.  If only by the practicalities of it: I might only be a black dad forbidding my son to go out with a white girl because I hate whites, but the power relationshp of society is irrelevant in my house, where I'm the boss.

    That's not even "gun control". It's more like "massacre control".

    by Inland on Wed Apr 17, 2013 at 01:20:03 PM PDT

    •  One needs that prism to study race. (0+ / 0-)

      That's what I mean. I've had countless arguments with conservatives who say merely talking about race in America makes one a racist. Just a discussion of racism in America, to them, is racist.

      Most recently, in gun debates where I talked about the racist intent of the 2nd amendment, etc.. Protecting slavery. Crushing slave rebellions, etc.

      I posted the article from Thom Hartman on the subject and was called a "racist" by conservatives for just bringing up the history of racism.

      I think they do it to shut down debate. But that's just a guess.

  •  While I think this diary overstates its case, (6+ / 0-)

    the point about offensive speech vs. racist speech is a good one. Regarding yesterday's diary, it was educational to learn that phraseology regarding 'balls', etc. was offensive to many because of racial history but I do think the diarists were off-base in labeling it specifically as 'racist' speech.

    That having been said, continuing to use racially offensive speech after being informed that it is offensive may very well be racist and, even if it isn't, speaks to a profound amount of dickishness that we really don't need around here.

  •  Racism in America revolves around color, features (0+ / 0-)

    and the stereotypical belief in sexual myths.

  •  I mostly agree with you ... this is getting old (8+ / 0-)

    at least for me ... and I am a short, fat, Chicana woman of a certain age and fairly sensitive to lots of " --isms" But I find this whole discussion (which I consider manufactured at this point and in this context) rather unproductive and distracing when there are so real issues out there.

    One thing I would sorta disagree on is your contention:

    Being "racist" does require intent.
    I think that being racist requires a world view and is almost more insidious when it is not an intentional. thought-out sort of thing. the thinking is such that a certain view is considered the "normal" and the other is abnormal or plain wrong. As the old song from South Pacific tells us "you've got to be carefully taught ..." ( http://youtu.be/... ). You are taught or become racist until it is simply the way you think the world should function.

    However, I totally agree that when we play the racist card indiscrimately, it loses it's punch ... and we lose our own sense of balance and start seeing "racist" all over the place without figuring out how to play different situations.

    The first time I ever really understood this was when I went out to breakfast with some friends.  The waitress was really nice but she was racist in the nicest way.  After she delivered our order she asked my friends if they need ketup or steak sauce with their food.  Then she turned to me and very nicely and seriously asked if I needed hot sauce or jalapenos. Although she wanted to make me comfortable, in her world view, I was different from her and my friends and did not fit in or have the same needs. This was powerful to me because she was trying to be nice and she had no clue.

    Good luck with this.

    "Life without liberty is like a body without spirit. Liberty without thought is like a disturbed spirit." Kahlil Gibran, 'The Vision'

    by CorinaR on Wed Apr 17, 2013 at 01:32:35 PM PDT

  •  baseball example (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rizzo, CorinaR, lazybum

    It is considered racist in baseball to say a player doesn't hustle or is lazy while another player is gritty and plays the game the right way.  Why?  They would seem on the surface to be objective characterizations not related to race.  But it turns out that the first player is more likely to be black, while the second player is more likely to be white and they've done empirical studies to show this.  So I think that is a good barometer.

    So a phrase like saying some lacks balls, I could easily see it being more frequently directed at men, and hence the sexist criticism seems fair.  But in modern usage, I find it hard to see that it is more likely directed at certain races.  If a study could show that, then I would accept that it was racist regardless of the intent of individual speakers, but absent that I have a hard time seeing it.

    •  Good example . . . . (0+ / 0-)

      But it would run into troubles if . . . let's say announcer X calls a black player on his lack of hustle, then says the same thing about a white player. Let's say his track record is really good about this. You can't detect a pattern of unfairness. And, you actually DO see the guys he calls out being lazy. Both black and white.

      At that point, the intention is to call out laziness.

      If, however, the announcer seems to concentrate on black players . . . and rarely uses the same language for white players . . . then, yes, that's "intentional." That would appear to be "racist."

      •  It would determine if the sportscaster (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        lazybum

        is a bigot, but I think that when we write or speak publicly, we should try to take care as to how the audience will hear our words. So, if we now a certain segment of the readership/viwership/etc. is going to have a negative reaction to something, why would we incorporate that into our speech?

        •  Good question. (0+ / 0-)

          But this can be taken to extremes.

          Language is complex. Its history is complex. The English language, for example, has a history of violent subjugation, invasion, empire, loss of empire, etc. . . . involving most of Europe and much of the world. Within Britain itself there were the oppressed and the oppressors, and that changed through the centuries. Celts, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Vikings, Normans, etc. And then its expansion all over the globe. We can't possibly account for all the historical nuances across the board, for every ethnicity, religion, nationality, and get gender, age, handicaps, et al correct as well.

          It's impossible. Because using one term to prevent offending someone else may offend a third or a fourth group. Not using one term to prevent offense could also have those counter-examples.

          IOW, we'd be tied up into knots if we tried to be sensitive to everyone, to all history, etc. etc.

          Our only recourse would be silence.

          •  Now you're being a touch disingenous (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            lazybum

            When there's several score of people coming together and stating in one voice that something offends them and please don't do it, it's a bit churlish to be all 'language is complex'. It's true that when taken to extremes PC becomes Newspeak, but is there really only one way to claim that Obama's callow negotiating strategy is a bit caddish?

            •  It's a matter of before and after. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              dharmafarmer

              As mentioned earlier, if you're told you're stepping on someone's foot, but you keep doing it, you move from the accidental to the intentional.

              Not good.

              Did those who used the phrase already know they were stepping on people's feet?

              (I have no horse in this race, as I don't use the phrase. I think it crude, childish, Junior Highish, etc.)

              At the same time, to level an accusation of racism requires proof of intentionality, at least of some kind. I doubt anyone here at Kos intentionally used the phrase in a racist way. If, after having read that diary, they continue to  . . . . that's another story.

              •  The point is that some people DID continue... (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                diomedes77, mallyroyal

                ...not only merely stepping on feet but also grinding their heels in with an obstreporously aggressive defense of the term after having the offensiveness repeatedly explained.

                Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

                by Meteor Blades on Wed Apr 17, 2013 at 08:40:30 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Then that's a different story. (0+ / 0-)

                  Perhaps I shouldn't have even written this diary.

                  I read the original one in question, agreed whole-heartedly with 99% of it and the first two examples. Thought they were self-evident. Personal identification and the use of "boy". What could be more obvious? But the last one -- not so much.

                  I didn't know the context here at Kos. My bad, as the young kids used to say.

                  Thanks, Meteor for providing historical context, etc.

    •  This is why the distinction between (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      diomedes77, dharmafarmer, SoCaliana

      "racist" and "racially offensive" is an important one. It is clearly hurtful to members of this site because of their ethnic history and it would behoove all of us to respect that. On the other hand 'doesn't have the balls' is miles away from 'boy,' which is actively racist speech. While we should all stay away from 'lacks balls' I understand why so many feathers were ruffled by saying they were using language on a par with boy.

    •  There is a term in the law called... (4+ / 0-)

      ...differential impact. Though offensive for sexist reasons, the term in question doesn't mean the same when directed at white men as it does when directed at black men because of the history of lynching and castration of African American men in this country. That latter is what gives "no balls" a sharply different resonance when directed at a black man.

      While the intent of a person who says this about a black man may not be racist, may indeed be innocent, especially since that person may be ignorant of this history. But once the person knows the racial implications and learns the differential impact the expression has, repeating it shouldn't get a pass.

      Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

      by Meteor Blades on Wed Apr 17, 2013 at 08:37:00 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Words contain intent (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    edrie, TiaRachel, lazybum, Meteor Blades

    You don't invent your words as you speak them.  Words are already imbued with a load of meaning and history -- perhaps more than you understand or intend when you select them -- but you are fundamentally responsible for that meaning when you use those words.

    And if you learn that the words you chose are imbued with racist meaning and history, then you would choose not to use those words again unless your intent is to convey racist meaning.

  •  i've chosen the miriam-webster definition (0+ / 0-)

    for students to clarify one point here:  you are only looking at the first definition and not the second, extended one.

    One entry found for racism.
    Main Entry:    rac·ism
    Pronunciation:    r-siz-m
    Function:    noun
    1 : belief that certain races of people are by birth and nature superior to others
    2 : discrimination or hatred based on race
    - rac·ist  r-sst noun or adjective

    [bolding mine]

    now, please stop mincing words - it isn't working.

    EdriesShop Is it kind? is it true? is it necessary?

    by edrie on Wed Apr 17, 2013 at 02:20:41 PM PDT

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