Racism Is A Behavior That Needs Some Sort Of Context
Amanda Marcotte has a post up on racism that is actually temperate enough to deserve a response and some thoughtful questions. She says that racism is a system and argues vigorously that the person who behaves in a racist way is a racist, regardless of intent.
It was an ugly conversation, with all sorts of weird implications but the thing I couldn’t get over was people were actually buying into the silly notion that the best measure of racism is what people hold in their hearts. Which would mean that being stupid would give you a “get out of jail free” card when accused of racism.
If intent is the requirement to characterize an action as “racist”, then wouldn’t that pretty much mean no one is racist, since the vast majority of people will never cop to having that sort of intent? Conservatives have been hiding behind this conundrum forever, creating this strange world were young conservatives can actually have “affirmative action bakesales” and say with a straight face that they don’t think they’re racist. Better and more realistic is to look at racism systematically, which means you don’t get weighed down fighting over what someone “meant” when he/she said something racist.
Racism is a system where white people are privileged over black people in millions of different ways. (Well and there’s other kinds of racism, but just on this one subject.) Comments like the one Nubian blogged about aren’t racist because of intent so much, but because they feed off and reinforce the idea that there’s something “alien” about black people, that they are the Other from the Universal White Person.
Well, I don’t think intent is a “get out of jail free card”, as she suggests, but I do think the behavior needs some sort of context. There are behaviors that I would say are objectively racist most of the time. Using the n-word is the most obvious example, though there is a contradiction of sorts in our country where black people use the n-word all the time. I would never think it’s OK for myself and have been conditioned to think that way most of my life.
The context could be how a behavior is received, but that has perils of its own that are at least as bad as intent, for many of the same reasons. It makes the receiver the judge and gives that person a license for perpetual grievance. It would have the effect of defining racism up in much the way that intent might define it down.
This business where Amanda suggests that racism is a system rather than a behavior is a bunch of collectivist clap-trap that doesn’t merit a lot attention. Suffice it to say, this is a definiton only a tyrant or a lawyer (due to the extra income) would love; it would hand the state a license to meddle that would have no end.
As for the behavior and the proper context, I would love to know what readers think.