the New Racist

Talk about redefining words! This year, more than ever before, I’m hearing (reading) the word “racist” used in unfamiliar context.

So I reached for my several dictionaries for some light on the word that is now racist. I’m using definitions for the root word race, from Princeton U, American Heritage, and Oxford.

Definitions for race are rather consistent, meaning such as: relating to being of the same genetic stock; geographic/global population distinguished by genetics, common history or nationality; each of the major divisions of humankind. And the word “racist” shows up as a belief that race accounts for differences in human character; prejudiced belief that a particular race is superior. My intention is not to supply you with dictionaries, so these definitions reflect a synopsis rather than detail.

Looking for the etymological roots of the racist word, it is evident that: race has been in use for several hundred hears; racist was first used as a noun in 1932 and as an adjective in 1938; racism came along in 1936; deviations on race originally from Nazi theories. (The word, “sexist” dates from 1965, modeled from “racist.”) Hmm, I thought.

Race is race, something that can be defined. But “racist”? I was surprised to find the word “belief” to be a factor in naming another “Racist”. But in thinking about it, it’s easy to see the word does require grey area thinking, while it cannot be supported by the grey matter of others, as can its parent, “race.”

My Oxford Dictionary of the English Language, 2006 edition (it replaced the old, battered & familiar one) includes helpful notes, for those moments I’m looking for instant clarity without having to do much thinking about it. Here’s the usage note regarding “race”, highlighted in its own box:

In recent years, the association of race with the ideologies and theories that grew out of the work of 19th century anthropologists and physiologists has led to the use of the word race itself becoming problematic. Although still used in general contexts, it is now often replaced by other words which are less emotionally charged, such as people(s) or community.

So, what’s the malcontent for the word racist, you may ask? It’s the vitriol in its use.

“Racist” is used predominately by people on the other side of the political fence (left, or liberal, but I use those words as cautiously as racist), with an emotional axe to grind. Generally speaking, those leaning to the left would have me believe that political preference is “racist.” Of course, “you’re racist” usually means, “I don’t have anything useful to say, so I’ll just resort to name calling.”
“You’re a racist” is used as a response to a variety of statements expressing opposition to the current political status, that have nothing to do with race. For example:I am still surprised when the response to my objection to “stimulus” spending is, “you’re a racist”.
I am also surprised when I state something like, “Obama’s servile bow in Saudi Arabia is demeaning to Americans,” the response is “you’re racist,” because there is lack of substance for a counter. Whether the topic at hand is government spending, constitutional attacks, or making statements of fact (sans opinion) regarding any given religion, the response is, you guessed it! “You’re racist!”
As stated in Oxford’s knowing tome, the word race was maligned first by the Nazi jocks. Race now, apparently, has been hijacked again, to be used for name calling from the Left to the Right.
Racist? If you call me racist because you think I don’t like striped people, I’d ask you to first supply one so we can test your opinion on the matter. But, if you call me racist because I don’t agree with you, or don’t like the policies, politics or pandering of the present administration, you show your stripes, and prejudice.

- by Linda Butts

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