by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
If I were to express sympathy for the Saudi-Arabians killed in the recent bomb attack, some people would accuse me of being a racist. "Racism" and "racist" used to mean something, but now the word is just an epithet hurled at anyone someone disagrees with.
"Racism" used to mean an antipathy, a hatred, against a race of people. "Race" once meant a biological classification of human beings, such as Caucasian, African, East Asian, American Indian, Innuit (Eskimo), African Pygmy, African Bushmen, Australian Aborigine, and Polynesian. There are no sharp distinctions among the races, since there are many people of mixed race, but the people of a race share many common physical characteristics that are not in other races.
The German Nazis changed the meaning of "race" when they classified Jews as a race rather than as a culture and religion. Jews themselves were then accused of being racist if they distinguished between Jews and non-Jews. Now anybody who refers to any class of human is accused of being racist, whether the reference is favorable to the group or not. I have been accused of being a racist when I state that Palestinians have rights to life and land. Any mention of ethnic or national or religious groups such as Arabs or Palestinians will predictably result in one's being accused of being a racist.
Meanwhile some anthropologists have confused the issue by declaring that there is no such thing as race. If that is true, why has race been such a divisive political issue in the USA? Why the fuss over a statement a presidential candidate made about bumper stickers showing the Confederate flag? How could there have been segregation and racial discrimination if there is no distinction? In fact to most folks race is still meaningful, which is why "racist" has become a worse curse word than any reference to sex, body functions, and the divine.
"Racist" has become a conversation stopper. When I have been accused of being a racist in the letters page of the Progress Report, not once has the accuser specified exactly which race was the target, and there was no analysis of the propositions that were allegedly racist. Evidently, anyone who accuses anyone of being a racist is really saying, "I don't like what you said, and I am too lazy to analyze it or even try to understand it, so I will just curse and swear at you."
People used to do this with "communist". I was accused of being a communist for expressing libertarian views. By the end of the Cold War, the term "communist" no longer meant anything other than a curse word to hurl against those one disagreed with. Now the word "communist" is a quaint linguistic antique, and the new political swear word is "racist!".
Minorities have contributed to turning "racism" into meaninglessness. Some minorities, racial or otherwise, scream "racist!" whenever anyone does anything they deem to be disagreeable to them. It is always because of race, especially if they can sue for discrimination. Some readers will think I am a racist for saying this, proving my point.
All this takes real racists off the hook. If "racist" is just a curse word, there is no word we can use for those who hate people of a particular biological category. The accusation "racist!" just reflects the anti-intellectual attitude of the accuser, rather than anything about the accused.
The fashionable accusation "racist" has ruined free speech. One cannot say anything any more without being accused of racism. If I like the string theory of physics, that is racist, because I am discriminating against those who think string theory is nonsense. If a geoist thinks we have equal rights to natural benefits, and that those who receive rent from the government should pay it back, that is racist, since it is a slur on those who think sharing rent is a communist evil.
George Orwell called this "stop think." Anyone who uses the term "racist" is dictating to everyone, "Stop thinking! Believe what I say! It is true because I say so!" This is the opposite of what Henry George said is the proper attitude for human dignity: "Think for yourself!"
-- Fred Foldvary
Copyright 2003 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.
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