It seems I’ve been having this fight more and more since I started blogging about it: people don’t particularly like my definition of racism. Some argue that it is too broad, and that acts that are not maleficent should not be branded as ‘racist’. Others argue that using the word in this way strips it of its power – that ‘racist’ should be a term that shuts down conversation. I do not recognize the validity of either of these arguments, for reasons I have explained in my definition post. Briefly, an act does not have to be distinctly negative to be racist, and as a direct consequence the word should never be used to shut down conversation; rather, it should be used to accurately label those things that are motivated by an ideology that a member of an individual group is representative of the entire group.
Despite all the pretty talk about the so-called “post-racial” America, the United States has a serious race problem:
Mrs (Shirley) Sherrod was videoed giving a speech in March at a dinner of a Georgia chapter of the NAACP, a prominent civil rights group. The clip was picked up on by conservatives as evidence of anti-white racism in President Barack Obama’s government and within the NAACP, an organisation seen as Democratic-leaning.
The remarks in question were part of a story Mrs. Sherrod was telling about being reluctant to help a white farmer gain government assistance because of her history with white people. The offending clip can be seen here:
Pretty bad, right? Racist, in fact! A government employee discriminating against someone based on their race! It’s perfectly right to fire her, isn’t it?
The entire speech is 44 minutes long, and it was distilled into a 90-second clip by Fox News. Your bullshit radar should immediately go off. But of course, you’re a reasoning, thinking adult. You know whose bullshit radar didn’t go off?
Mrs Sherrod was promptly sacked, her remarks condemned by the administration and the NAACP.
That’s right, the NAACP (who, by the way, hosted the event, and heard her remarks in context) and her boss, Secretary Tom Vilsack, leaped into the fray with both feet before examining any of the evidence. Here’s the full speech, with the remarks in context (start watching at about 17:30):
Taken in context, this is a story about how this woman was able to realize that the black/white issue she had been taught was in have a rich/poor issue. She saw the man being mistreated at the hands of other white people, and realized the issue was about haves vs. have-nots, with race being a coincidental heuristic. It’s a positive story about learning to put racial history and animosity aside, and to deal with things as fact.
(@21:20)”Working with him made me see that it’s really about those who have versus those who haven’t. They could be black, they could be white, they could be Hispanic. And it made me realise then that I needed to help poor people – those who don’t have access the way others have.”
So why was such a snap judgment made? Why did this woman get fired immediately without having an opportunity to tell her side of the story? Why did the White House have to intervene and backtrack from a hasty and stupid decision? Because the word ‘racism’ was thrown into the conversation. As soon as that word comes up, conversation shuts down. Brains shut down. In order to avoid even the appearance of complicity with racism, we make stupid and hasty decisions. All this because we are so paranoid over talking about race and racial issues. Well the conversation is happening now.
It sends a chill down my spine whenever Glenn Beck gets something right:
But in this case, the blind squirrel finds a nut of truth.