There was a time, not long ago, when calling someone a ‘racist’ was about the worst possible insult we could give. Depending on the individual, such an accusation might have even been considered fighting words. In the aftermath of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, most Americans recognized the evils of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation, and passionately rejected the ideologies that facilitated them.
For those of us who lived and worked in diverse communities from the 1970s through the 1990s, the words that were most commonly used to identify such people were ‘prejudiced’ or ‘bigoted;’ whereas ‘racist’ was reserved for the most exceptional cases. Even still, no one strived to earn any of those identifiers. Television character Archie Bunker, for instance, was an entertaining bigot, but we laughed at Archie, and not with Archie. The overwhelming majority of us sought racial harmony, and we wanted to move forward; to progress. We didn’t want to be called bigoted, prejudiced, or racist.
This mindset was largely successful. Throughout the 1980s, race relations seemed to progressively improve across the country. When the horrific beating of Rodney King at the hands of the LAPD came to light in 1991, virtually all Americans were horrified, regardless of our race. Four years later, there was a racial component to the O.J. Simpson trial – thanks to Simpson’s lawyer’s making accusations that resulted in the coining of the phrase “playing the race card” – but that trial was not particularly divisive to our nation; at least not compared to today’s divisiveness.
Only thirteen years after Simpson’s trial, America elected its first black president in Barack Obama, and then elected him again four years after that. In January 2010, a year after Obama took office, a poll by Pew Research found that that “Seven-in-ten whites (70%) and six-in-ten blacks (60%) [said] that the values held by blacks and whites have become more similar in the past 10 years.“ Those numbers came only fourteen months after a similar poll found “nearly half of white voters (48%) and three-quarters of black voters (74%) expected to see race relations improve during Obama’s presidency.”
We had a black president, we were over forty years removed from segregation, and our future looked bright. “Look how far we’ve come,” we thought. Such opinions were in fact held by many of us who didn’t vote for Obama. Virtually no other country in the world had elected a racial minority to lead them even once, let alone twice. Full-steam ahead was our thinking; there’s no stopping us.
Now twelve years after Obama’s inauguration, race relations in America seem as deeply divided as ever, but why? There are undoubtedly a variety of reasons, including the likelihood that our optimism from a decade ago was never actually justified. But one factor that is both inescapable and immeasurable is phenomenon of the flippant usage of the word ‘racist.’ A word that previously was used on only rare occasions is now used at the drop of a hat, and that overuse has now evolved to the point that sensible, considerate, open-minded Americans could reasonably interpret being called a racist as a compliment.
In 2008, Barack Obama didn’t need to use the word ‘racist’ yet many Americans were aghast when he disguised such an accusation. Obama simply implied the word when he suggested McCain and Republicans were “Going to try to make you scared of me. You know, he doesn’t look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills.” He didn’t call McCain a racist by name, but the verbiage was just a technicality, and McCain and other Republicans were vociferous with their objections.
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Eight years later, the term became commonplace within our political discourse when the target became Donald Trump. In 2015 when Trump said he wanted to keep rapists and criminals from coming to the U.S. from Mexico, they called him a racist in spite of the fact he specifically stated not all Mexicans are criminals. After he was elected, when he stated there were some “good people” in Charlottesville who wanted to preserve aspects of their Confederate heritage, again they called him a racist. For any perceived infraction by Trump, and for just about any reason imaginable, they threw out the word without hesitation. Many of us thought it couldn’t get any worse, but indeed it has.
We now have self-proclaimed racial scholar Ibrim X. Kendi, who essentially states the following: if we’re not anti-racist, then we’re racist. It’s a binary situation. So what does it mean to be ‘anti-racist?’ According to Kendi and many others on the left, it means we must admit that any aspect of the American system that results in unequal outcomes by race is in itself inherently racist.
Therefore, capitalism – our fundamental economic system and the system that has given us the greatest standard of living the world has ever known – is racist because there are unequal outcomes by race. Our education system, and particularly our advanced education system, which is the envy of the world, is racist because again, there are unequal outcomes by race. And our military, the strongest on the planet and one which protects us in ways other countries can only dream of, is also racist for the same reasons.
If there’s a practice, or department, or tradition that the left and their media don’t like, they label it as racist. The most recent example is the Senate filibuster, a parliamentary procedure that has been in place for over a century. The filibuster is an impediment to the most radical aspects of the Democrats’ agenda, so what does that make it? It makes it racist, of course. None other than Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), the same white woman who railed against imaginary white privilege while pretending to be Native American, pulled no punches in her attempt to abolish the filibuster, alleging the “filibuster has deep roots in racism.”
We must therefore consider and assess these allegations of racism and their merit.
Almost 60% of Americans have a favorable opinion of capitalism. If capitalism is racist, as the left contends, and if you embrace capitalism like the vast majority of Americans, that must mean you are a racist. If so, take the accusation as a compliment.
If America’s colleges and universities are racist, and if you indeed cherish that education system and proudly proclaim your participation in it, that must again mean you’re a racist. Again, consider their assertion as flattery.
The same goes for our military. If you love our military and the men and women who serve in it, and if that military is racist, we should embrace their intended insult and consider it as high praise.
And if you believe that the Senate filibuster is both proper and legitimate, and if you believe that the process promotes needed compromise amongst our legislators, then let them label you as racist and accept it with honor.
The entire debate would be funny if it weren’t so dangerous. The most glaring problem with the left’s willy-nilly use of the word is the fact that racism does indeed exist, and is growing fastest on America’s left. Racism is alive and well. Any group which views virtually every aspect of American society through the lens of race, and which openly supports the idea of shunning businesses due to the color of their owners’ skin can only be called racist.
But there are also genuine white supremacists – authentic and traditional racists – and the left has diluted the term so extensively, its impact is being lost. A word that should make us shudder instead makes us shrug our shoulders, or even accept it with pride. The left has twisted the meaning of ‘racist’ to a point that many of us must take such an allegation as a compliment, and that bastardization of the word is sending America down a very dark path.
P.F. Whalen is a conservative blogger at TheBlueStateConservative.com. His work has appeared in multiple publications, including Human Events, the Western Journal, and American Thinker. Follow him on Parler @PFWhalen.