Has the term "Racism" Lost its Meaning?
Just this week I've seen a number of Facebook memes that claim that the phrase "Black Lives Matter" is racist. White it was easy to see why the lie is popular among Trump's base, it made me wonder how the term racism lost it's meaning.
This photo of from an Indian boarding school showing how the boys were being "saved from their culture. Racism doesn't always look like Jim Crow
It is odd how the word "racism" has no universal meaning given how often it is used.
While the term racism came into common usage in the 1930's to describe the way the Nazi's created the Aryan racial myth. Then they used that myth to strip not just Jews, but Slavs and those of sub-Saharan African descent of even the most basic of human rights.
Yet Hitler did not create this German/Nordic superiority ideology, nor did he create the justification to use that ideology to dehumanize people. To justify his call to eradicate the population of Eastern Europe of it's native “sub-human” inhabitants to gain more "living room" for the German "race; he looked not to some ancient culture, but to America. He looked to the United States as a role model in the way the native population was dehumanized to justify the approbation of vast swaths of land. Like our forefather's did, Hitler saw land occupied by Slaves and Jews to be effectively uninhabited since those who lived there were not considered to have rights worth mentioning.
The first known use of racism was by an US Army general who rightly saw that separating people by "race" was fundamentally wrong; however his response to the evil of genocide was to save the native people by simply killing their culture. He coined the term “save the man, kill the Indian” that meant that to save naïve American children we must destroy their culture entirely. Thus was born the Indian Boarding School programs used in both the US and in Canada to turn Indianan kids “white.”
This little nugget of history is a perfect bridge from the 1930's definition of racism to the modern use where "racist" is used to describe the effects of policies that keep certain ethnic groups marginalized. That is why it is hard to find someone who will say those of African descent are genetically inferior; yet, we have a full throated attack on those who seek equity of opportunity. Now we have a chorus of people who claim (and perhaps believe) that the term "Black Lives Matter" is racist because they claim it means "Only Black Lives Matter" rather than "Black Lives Matter Also."
This intentionally and deceptive change of meaning is not an accident. Those who say BLM is a racist term are not just ignorant. They have deliberately turned the call for racial equality to mean something sinister using the term racist as cover. That is like pretending that the South African apartheid laws were created to protect native black culture. It is a lie covered with a powerful word as defense. But it is a lie none the less.
Why use the word racist to delegitimatize the BLM movement?
Because the Trumpian right does not see any problem with the status quo. They believe that "white" society is simply better than "black" (or Hispanic) society. That societal superiority, not systemic oppression, is why white men hold virtually all the money and power in our country. That is also why they like to trot out the old "I have black friends" argument to prove that it is the black and brown cultures that lead to poverty and dis-empowerment, not the color of their skin.
Now I have to be clear, it is not just those who seek to preserve the current division of power and wealth that use the term “racist” to justify things that are far from its prior meaning.
On the other extreme "racism" is used to describe virtually anything that offends a person of color. The word is used to brand any opponent a moral degenerate simply because a single person finds something offensive. Calling a white person who wears a corn rows in their hair racist has robbed the term of meaning just as surely as calling the term black lives matter racist. To say a person of Northern European descent, rather than of Iberian European descent, who wears a sombrero to a costume party is a racists is not helpful. Such accusations effectively suggest that the person in a sombrero is morally on par with someone who wears a Klan robe to a cross burning. Thus the word racist loses its moral authority.
As such, perhaps the word is no longer useful. If virtually any action can be called racist, what does the word mean? Well mostly it is now used by people in one political group to justify their assaults on another group by creating their own private definition of the word.
In conclusion, let’s consider another word that the meaning has been deliberately changed by a political group to demonize its opponents and give them a feeling of moral superiority. When anti-abortion activist call the termination of a 4 week fetus murder, they are changing the definition of the word murder so as to give an emotional charge to their assertion that a zygote is a human being. It does not matter that others reject their change, it suits them. In doing so the word loses any universal meaning.
So too for the word racist/racism. Actions by those on the left and right have led the word(s) to have no universal meaning, and thus no practical use. However, the concept is important so we need to look for a new word/term. How to describe those who are comfortable with the current situation where simply looking "black" will continue to be a major determinant in how people are treated? Not just by police and the criminal justice system, but by employers, teachers and almost every interaction they have with the “white” over culture. How do we describe those who simply deny the evidence and claim the table is not tilted against black people? They claim things are fair and black people ore poor and powerless due to their own actions. Such people accept the current defacto white supremacy in our society as fully justified based on a believe that those of superior intellect and character rise to the top. If such people are almost all white men, well so be it.
Thus for now I suggest the term "white supremacist" as a better descriptor.