Bad people always try to justify their bad behavior. Cheaters claim that everyone cheats and it’s no big deal. Thieves claim that they deserved what they filched and it was only fair that they took it. Racists claim that their behavior doesn’t count as racism.
That’s a big problem when these racists are gaining positions of power in academia and the media. They’re using their loudspeakers to spread their excuses for racism. That’s going to perpetuate the cycle. Fight back against their sophistry.
There isn’t any need to come up with justifications for being racist. It’s actually really easy to not be racist, per the actual definition:
a person who believes in racism, the doctrine that one’s own racial group is superior or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others.
I’ve never had a hard time not being racist. I imagine you haven’t either. Apparently, though, that’s too hard for some people.
First things first: all attempts to redefine words by fiat are bullshit. That’s as true for woke crusaders as it is for Ayn Rand’s attempt to redefine selfishness. The definitions of words are determined by how we, the speakers, use them. They aren’t determined by some random person with an ax to grind. They aren’t even determined by an official body, though France has tried that approach with its Académie Française, with little success. The battle between descriptivists and prescriptivists is over; the descriptivists won. The redefiners are objectively wrong when they try to invent new meanings for words to replace their actual meaning. That’s simply not how language works.
The most popular redefinition is something like “racism is power + prejudice.” That’s probably the most defensible redefinition, but that’s not saying much. The subtext of that definition is that racism doesn’t really count if you don’t have power. That’s nonsense. A homeless guy ranting about the Jews has no power but is still obviously being racist.
I’m going to criticize a different redefinition I pulled off of Twitter. I don’t want to be a bully, but this definition is just so hilariously dumb, and the person proposing it apparently has a doctorate and is in a position of power. I wouldn’t want to go after a silly Tweet and find out it came from some confused highschool student.
This has the normal, Linguistics 101 error: words have meanings defined by use, and people simply don’t use the word “racism” to mean what she says. She’s objectively wrong.
That definition is also completely useless for describing actual racism. If a black kid gets beat up for trying to hang out with Latinos, then it’s apparently not racism because there’s no “structure” or “dominant power” there. If an Asian-American calls out racial slurs at a Jewish person, there’s no racism either, by her definition.
The “dominant power” part is key. The author of this tweet is apparently an assistant professor, so by any reasonable standard she’s in a position of social power. Do you think she’d be consistent and say that she can’t experience racism because she’s part of the power structure?
She’s using “power” the way the far Left has for at least a century: a pejorative to describe their enemies. Never mind that she has more power than 99% of the US population, who have more power than 90% of the world; the phrase “dominant power” only refers to people she’s trying to demonize.
I’m assuming she’s using the phrase as a pseudo-intellectual shorthand for “white people” because if we take it seriously then her logic is even more muddled. For example: Asian-Americans and Jewish people are both statistically far richer, more powerful, healthier and safer than white people. Does that mean they’re the dominant power? Jewish people in particular are the targets of hatred of white supremacists yet they are, on average, far more powerful than white supremacists. Does that power difference mean they can’t experience racism?
If they don’t count as part of the “dominant power,” then why? Is it because they’re in the minority? That can’t be it, because in the Apartheid regime of South Africa whites were in the minority but were the dominant power (and highly racist).
Do they not count as the “dominant power” because society isn’t structured in a way to benefit them? That can’t be it, either, for two reasons. The first is that outcomes are used as de facto evidence of institutional racism, and these two groups have the best outcomes. The second is that many empires ruled in essentially racist ways without explicitly tying the ruling imperial caste to a specific race. People living under Roman rule weren’t the “dominant power” even if they were in the majority and weren’t completely prevented from becoming Roman citizens and scaling the hierarchy.
Dr. Rhodes isn’t attempting an intellectual analysis of racism. She’s attempting to defend some racism as not really counting as racism. Just because someone uses dime-store words to justify their racism doesn’t make it OK.