Preserving the Common-Sense Definition of Racism
Certain “liberal” movements have been trying to pervert the conventional, common-sense, and correct definition of racism for years now. I am writing this post to preserve that definition. It has come increasingly under attack and is, unfortunately, becoming less and less adopted. This post is not meant to persuade liberals. It is meant as a record. I worry that a decade from now, the correct definition of racism will be but a faint echo from a distant time with little hope of resurrection unless it can be looked up somewhere.
Racism is when you judge someone by the color of their skin. That’s it. You don’t need any references to systems or institutions thrown in there. Further, anyone can be racist against anyone else. And it applies to both favoring and disfavoring someone based on skin color.
Nowadays, some people say such nonsense as “black people can’t be racist against white people.” I say it is nonsense because you can directly conclude from the above-mentioned and correct definition of racism that a black person judging a white person for being white is racist. In fact, the new definition is itself racist because it singles out white people for special opprobrium: white people are always the perpetrators, never the victims.
Why do some people say black people can’t be racist against white people? Because they have twisted the definition of racism. According to them, racism goes not from individual against individual, but from institutions against minorities. Racism, they say, is the “institutionalized” and “systemic” preference for white people over people of color, and the persecution of the latter.
Now, if institutions really did persecute minorities of a certain skin color (and I doubt they do, especially in the US, which is one of the least racist countries in the world), then that would indeed be racist because it matches our definition above. But the adherents to this new, perverted theory of racism have turned a sufficient condition into a necessary one. They claim that institutionalized discrimination is a necessary condition for something to be considered racist when in reality, it is merely sufficient. And so, they conclude, one-on-one discrimination based on skin color is not racist (except maybe from white to black, but definitely not from black to white).
Adherents to the new definition would cheer if a black business owner favored a black candidate for an open position over a white one, even if all candidates were equally qualified and the business owner based his decision on skin color. They might even say hiring the black candidate and turning away the white one is imperative so as to not further the allegedly systematic benefits the white candidate already receives.
Just five or ten years ago, the new definition of racism still encountered much skepticism. That has changed. The reason this deeply mistaken idea has been spreading so successfully is that people share it in the name of good intentions. I have written about how ideas can mutate basically unchecked in the evolutionary arena once they rest on good intentions because they become harder to criticize. Turning a necessary condition into a sufficient one is one such mutation that normally would have been caught and selected against, but because it rests on the good intention of fighting (allegedly) institutionalized racism, the mutation was not corrected.
One of the consequences of the new, false definition of racism is that racism against white people is becoming relatively commonplace. Another is the damage this new definition has done to our institutions, especially in academia, which damage has been documented to some extent, partly in this video. Some of the virtually unchecked mutations that have occurred and the resulting overt racism against white people can be seen in this video. It also includes hints of the legitimizing of discrimination and of violence against whites (such as when DiAngelo says that white people are going to have to experience discomfort to facilitate change).
If the new definition keeps spreading and if associated ideas keep mutating freely, such hints may grow and turn from covert, hinted-at violence into overt violence (DiAngelo is still hesitant to speak openly of taking away white people’s rights and property, but may feel empowered to do so in the future — I believe that’s what she means when she advocates discomfort). Additionally, I won’t be surprised if the departure from the common-sense definition of racism in the name of good intentions leads to more governmental interference in business, e.g., through strict implementations of quotas in hiring practices: “your business’s personnel must accurately reflect the proportions of race in the population.” (I have a hunch that meeting this requirement would be impossible due to the apportionment problem, but would need to investigate further. (EDIT 2022-01-27: I have since written about this matter here.) If true, I doubt this would stop governments from trying to enforce it and penalizing businesses for not complying!) I believe businesses should be free to hire according to criteria they determine themselves, without any regulation or oversight. The criterion should be merit (qualification).
The common-sense definition applies to both individual and institutionalized discrimination based on skin color. The new definition applies almost exclusively to the institutionalized kind. The common-sense definition is universal and applies to everyone. The new definition is parochial and singles out white people. Which definition do you think is better?
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