Racism [rey-siz-uhm] –noun
1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others.
2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon of fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
3. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races
This definition (H/T http://dictionary.reference.com) is similar to that used by most leftists when making their tired, worn-thin accusation that conservatism is inherently racist. It’s wrong on many levels.
1. The notion that inherent differences among races can have an impact on their achievement is not a new one. In some cases it is not supported by science, in others it is. But the former President of Harvard University, Larry Summers, was fired for making a statement at an academic conference that “innate differences between men and women might be one reason fewer women succeed in science and math careers.” While his statement dealt with sex rather than race, the principle is the same. Yet in the “debate” that followed, few people—on either side—took the time to actually discuss the argument that Mr. Summers was making. They simply leveled a charge against him—that making such an argument was clearly unacceptable—and fired his butt. So much for leftist “tolerance” for ideas that differ from their Orthodxy. Oh, and by the way, Mr. Summers is a creature of the left and not of the right.
2. The idea that “one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others” has, quite literally, been banished to the fringes of both ends of the political spectrum. Certainly one can see it from neo-nazi and white supremacist groups, but one can also see it from French Socialists (e.g. “L’affaire DSK”) and others. But truly, you see no credible argument from mainstream conservatives or leftists that support this line of thought.
3. Equally certainly, one can find “hatred or intolerance of another race or other races” in America, but during my nearly twenty years living in other countries, I have seen similar sentiments expressed toward (and from) practically every group. You can find anti-white racism in both Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe and in Rev. Wright’s church. You can find anti-American racism in many places, including the United Kingdom. You can find anti-Arab racism in much of Europe. And on and on and on. Let’s postulate, however, that there is a difference between an irrational “hatred” and reasoned differences of outlook, culture, and belief. It’s one thing to say “I hate someone” and another thing entirely to say that “someone’s beliefs are not something I can tolerate in my society.” (For anyone who believes that that last statement is unacceptable, please carefully consider your reaction to one of the two following statements: “I believe in abortion on demand” and “I believe that abortion should be forbidden in all but a few cases.” )
4. There is absolutely no way that a rational person can argue that our political or governmental system actively fosters such a doctrine.
5. As a pragmatic matter, we should be worried more about people’s behavior than how they think. How, after all, can we possibly know what they think? Instead, we can (and to some extent have) establish a set of policies, regulations, and laws that define acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. In short, I don’t care what racist Joe Blow thinks about me, but I do care if Joe behaves in an illegal manner toward me.
6. Finally, I really have a real problem with the terminology used in some of these cases. Discrimination, for example, is the ability to tell two objects (or arguments or situations) apart, to be able to distinguish between unlike things. This ability is a good thing! It is important that we can tell right from wrong, good from bad, situation from situation. Unfortunately, its connection with racial issues has tainted the use of an excellent word. (I feel the same way about the words “gay”, “queer”, “liberal”, “intolerant”, and a number of others. Not to mention “niggardly.”*)
On a much more practical level, “racism” is a charge often leveled by leftists towards conservatives simply to shut down an argument. “If you’re opposed to illegal immigration, you must be racist.” “If you disagree with President Obama, you’re doing so because you ‘don’t like having a black man in the White House.” This, of course, is arrant nonsense, and has so debased the charge that it has become practically meaningless. We’ve heard the likes of Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson cry wolf so many times (and in so many cases being patently wrong), that people have simply stopped listening.
As with so many things in politics, this has both a good and a bad side. On the bad side, it is wrong that a “real” charge of racism—one that is well justified and for which there is credible evidence—should be ignored. On the good side, it is entirely desirable that the spurious charges of a bunch of race-baiting charlatans—most specifically including the aforementioned soi-dissant Reverends—should be ignored or challenged.
*For the sarcasm challenged: there have been several controversies, documented by Wikipedia here, where people using the “phonically similar” word “niggardly” were treated poorly. This, of course, simply demonstrated the ignorance (if not downright stupidity) of those making the charge. For the grammatically challenged: The word “niggardly” means “stingy” and is not related to the taboo word “nigger”.