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Weaponizing “Racism”

Dear Editor: 

I read a rather astounding opinion piece in the New York Times recently that claimed white people are trying to pretend racism doesn’t exist by redefining the word such that almost no one can be a racist. I found this claim ironic since over the last 15 years radical activists have been trying to redefine racism such that only whites can be racist. 

When I first heard Spike Lee say that black people could never be racist because in “his definition of racism” there has to be an economic component, I thought no one is going to fall for that crap. And yet, that thinking is going mainstream. College students are being taught similar. Opinion pieces regularly appear saying that the dictionary definition of racism is wrong because the dictionary is written by white people. 

The weaponization of racism is now complete. A generation ago, calling someone a racist was certainly an insult but it was one that could be disputed or supported by facts. Somewhere along the way, it became a claim that instantly and permanently sullied, akin to accusing someone of being a wife beater or child molester. Some people draw it like a six shooter, knowing it can intimidate those who have the temerity to have an opposing view point. As columnist Clarence Page wrote, “There is hardly a more abused, misused and overused word in the English language than the R-word.” 

It’s not shocking that this latest leap away from logic appeared in the Times; what’s disheartening is that it just further divides the country and makes it less likely all Americans can work together to solve our shared problems. No person –black, white or otherwise– is likely to enter into a constructive dialogue when the opening message is, “You are inherently inferior/bad.” Such a message either shuts down communication or draws a negative response. It’s human nature. 

For the record, in my lifetime there have been two general definitions of racism. There is the classic “ism” that leads all dictionary entries: The belief that all members of a specific race are inherently inferior (or superior) to other races. This definition also includes individual actions that flow from this belief. The second definition encompasses systemic or institution racism where official policies or traditional practices measurably discriminate against (or for) a particular race. 

It would be difficult for any intelligent person to argue that black Americans have not been on the receiving end of racism far more than any other citizens of this country. But if we are moving from apartheid to equality, why do we now need to use weaponized “racism” to taint all white Americans? This approach sounds like a cleaned-up version of Leonard Jeffries’ repudiated racist theory that white people are aggressive “ice people” while Africans are peaceful “sun people.” Jeffries didn’t want a solution. He was driven by his own hatred. I think most would agree the goal should be peace. 

Today’s activists have a clear choice: They can be part of the solution by bringing people together or they can forfeit the high ground by adopting new forms of racism inspired by Jeffries and others. The former may not succeed; the latter is a guaranteed lose-lose proposition.