4 Results For: Racism
I’ve been reading a particular conversation online about racism and ‘reverse racism’ and the denial of white privilege. It’s got me thinking about the definitions of words and how the general populace has no working definition, no reasonable common vernacular with which to discuss systems of oppression. So when we start arguing, we’re not really ever arguing about the same things.
Of course, now that I think of it, this is true with most systems of meaning. We skim the surface with each other, taking connotations for granted and not examining the roots of the language we use, sharing little in regard to the subtleties and deeper meanings of the words and phrases we toss around.
I try to be precise in my use of language – often failing, but usually trying. I get lazy like everyone, I fall back on “You know what I mean.” You know what I mean. You know what I mean? I pause and wonder ‘Will they get what I’m trying to say?’ and ideally I’ll slow down, clarify, ask questions. Less-than-ideally, I’ll plow forward, hoping that they’ll figure it out.
Feminism and racism are explosive kinds of words. Loaded. These words are rarely able to sneak into a conversation, especially when converted into their related noun and adjective forms: eyebrows raise, blood pressure begins to rise, and the way is laid for explanations, arguments, defenses, accusations, denials, subject changes and uncomfortable silences. I wonder, though, how often do we use these words (and others like them) and really try to make sure our partners in conversation know what me mean. You cannot be responsible for another person’s understanding, but you can at least work hard to be clear about what you mean. For example, when I refer to feminism, I seldom say “…meaning the struggle against sexist oppression.” Such a description might be helpful toward keeping the conversation going, as many people begin to search for a way out of a conversation where the concept of feminism is introduced, because for them it signifies irrational, angry women on a mad rampage (among other things).
I should probably be explaining myself better. I should be asking more questions, like “What do you know about feminism?” or “What does ‘feminism’ mean to you?”
I should probably be talking less in general. I am one of those people who can talk themselves into a downward-spiraling vortex if I don’t watch myself.
So, anyway, I’ve been reading this heated blog conversation about racism and as usual, the participants and commenters each appear to have a different understanding of what the word ‘racism’ means, and what the difference is between racism and prejudice. In regard to ‘reverse racism’ participant, a highly intellegent and reflective woman named Kali made this point:
“The bottom line is that your argument about “reverse racism” is unsupportable. It’s been ably refuted in the literature on race relations by everyone from Omi & Winant, to Patricia Williams, to bell hooks, to Derrick Bell, to Beverley Daniels — historians, legal scholars, humanities scholars and psychologists. No one with any credibility in the field of race relations believes in it. It’s the racial equivalent of men crying out they’re being oppressed by “feminazis.” As a diversity trainer, you should know better than to repeat that sort of nonsense.”
In response to that, someone made this valid point:
“And surely you are not saying that simply because past and present “historians, legal scholars, humanities scholars and psychologists” have refuted what DG said, that we should all just say, ‘Hey, everything that can be said about this has been said…no need to talk any further on the subject…dead topic…’ “
So, who gets to define what these words mean – in this case, ‘racism’? Obviously there are dictionary definitions. But American english as we speak it has its own forms of oppressiveness, and any dictionary that defines racism will more than likely be doing so through the cloudy lens of racism. American Heritage actually has a Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, which I was hopeful about, until I read within their definition of racism that
“…Until the breakthroughs achieved by the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, white domination over blacks was institutionalized and supported in all branches and levels of government, by denying blacks their civil rights and opportunities to participate in political, economic, and social communities.”
The problem here is that this definition suggests that the civil rights movement emliminated the institutionalization of white domination over black people. This is inaccurate. Dictionaries are viewed as documents of high authority, often deemed as the height of accuracy. So when the dictionary tells people that white domination is no longer institutionalized due to the civil rights movement, what does that mean? It means it is a source that we cannot trust to define these terms.
As Kali referenced, there are many great minds who have put forth functional definitions of terms in the lexicon of race relations, but while those are valid and useful for some of us, how do we convince others that such definitions could be valid and useful for them, too? Can we have a conversation using common terms? Is it even possible?
There is much more to be said, but we’ve got places to go and I’ve kept my child waiting long enough. To be continued…