Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Pigs and Fishes says:

Anyway, Diane closes her piece by describing how she didn’t sit next to a young black man on the subway soon after the Central Park jogger incident, even though she didn’t think he was actually dangerous, just because he was young and thin and black, though she feels justified in having done so because an elderly black man acted the same way. Racism? Nah, just another form of bigotry that we currently don’t have a specific name for, but which has the same essential nature — assigning a sort of moral contagion on the basis of a few surface characteristics.

If this isn't racism, what is? As I've said a few times before, it seems we've set the standard for racism so high that unless it involves lynchings or gas chambers it doesn't count. A corollary to this is that given this high hurdle, the accuser ends up being tarred the racist rather than the accusee.

Saying that something someone said has racist overtones, or that their behavior betrays a degree of racism, or that they're engaging in racist behavior is not accusing someone of eating babies or advocating genocide. Since we don't have a word for this other "form of bigotry that we don't have a specific name for" why don't we stick to the old one -racism. Like many things it comes in various degrees and magnitudes. Sometimes "good people" do and say things out of ignorance, fear, and plain malice which should be called what they are -- Racist.

I see plenty of people screaming anti-semitsm at the slightest transgression. Actually I count myself among these people much of the time. But, I often wonder why analogous standards don't seem to apply to other forms of bigotry. I suppose this is in a similar vein to Signorile's column which I've linked below about Cuomo and McCall.

Note: despite our having jousted in the past, I really don't mean this to be an attack on Diane -- I haven't even read the original message that inspired this -- I'm just interested in the broader issue.