Some Thoughts on Racism and the Terms We Use to Describe It
Dr. Mark S. Latkovic
May 20, 2014
Racism of any kind is a terrible thing – even a mortal sin when the thought or act is done freely and with knowledge of its grave evil. And yes, it still exists, as we have been shockingly reminded lately with several prominent examples of it. But in recent years, we’ve heard many terms that make determining our progress – and there has been real progress – on race relations difficult. One never really knows if one’s a racist when these terms are thrown around. It makes you want to throw your arms up and say, “If everyone’s a racist, no one is.” The word simply loses its meaning and moral power; it’s cheapened.
I have heard of “unconscious racism” (the kind you don’t even know you have it is buried so deep), “situational racism” (the kind basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has spoken of in his otherwise eloquent words on the Donald Sterling affair: http://time.com/87024/kareem-abdul-jabbar-why-donald-sterling-does-not-think-he-is-racist/), and even what I would call “condescending racism.” The latter occurs when the white person protests accusations of racism with, “I’m not prejudiced. Look at all I’ve done for this black person; doesn’t that prove I’m not a racist?” Here you’re damned if you do (by helping, you supposedly act in a condescending way to someone you see as your inferior) and damned if you don’t (by not helping, you show yourself to be someone who doesn’t care about the welfare of blacks).
Attorney General Eric Holder is a pro at playing the game of “let’s keep moving the goalposts farther back,” so that now one can never say that racial equality has been achieved or at least been approximated (See his recent comments here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/holder-confronting-issue-of-race-once-more-says-subtle-threats-to-equality-cut-deeper/2014/05/17/66e63482-dd57-11e3-b745-87d39690c5c0_story.html?wpisrc=al_comboPN). Of course there are “subtle” forms of racism, as the AG says – the kind that can be much more difficult to deal with than the overt (and even legal) forms of old (And African-Americans are naturally best suited to address those). But these “subtle” forms, like the poor, we will sadly always have (and have had)with us. But I believe the challenge of eradicating racism can be made more challenging when the terms we use to talk about it confuse rather than clarify.