Merriam-Webster Online defines racism “as a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” That seems pretty clear cut. Why is it then that our society, press, culture, academics, and even our political leaders misrepresent the word so often?
The definition of racism has been expanded over the years to include many other facets of the human condition. From kids.net we get a definition that “racism or racialism is a form of discrimination based on race, especially the belief that one race is superior to another. Racism may be expressed individually and consciously, through explicit thoughts, feelings, or acts, or socially and unconsciously, through institutions that promote inequality between races.”
Encyclopaedia4U.com expands on this again. “Racism is a phenomenon in which people mistreat, discriminate against, dislike or even hate, have disdain for, or regard as inferior other people based on their real or perceived race. The term is almost always used pejoratively, with accusations of racism being very common but with few describing themselves as racist. The term racialism is sometimes favored as a less negative term by those who hold certain beliefs about other races which they believe to be scientifically justified.” That one pretty much includes everybody.
Could it be because it has such a negative connotation that the mere use of the word racism is guaranteed to get results? What we have allowed to take place is the definition of racism to be expanded to include prejudice and racial discrimination. These are serious issues, but they are not the same thing.
As well, we have begun to stigmatize certain human conditions that, while they may be learned, are completely normal and understandable.
Someone once posed the following hypothetical question to me:
” If you had to make a choice between two job applicants, one being white and one being black, who would you most likely hire?” Well, I pondered for a bit and considered my response, and then concluded that I would hire the most qualified person for the job dependant on my ability to pay them what they were asking.
I was then asked who I would hire if all factors besides race were equal. My answer was that I would hire the individual with whom I had the most in common and with whom I shared the same moral values. I was then labeled as a racist for the sake of the argument. Notice how my accuser simply assumed I would choose the white person based on that criteria. I would not. (It was a friendly discussion.) I will not simply assume that the person with my skin colour would have the most in common with myself, but if that were the case, so be it.
People have a natural attraction to people with the same cultural foundation, the same moral beliefs, and people with the same tastes. When I see a black person pass by me without a word and then stop to talk to the black person who was behind me, should I simply draw the conclusion that black people are racist, or at least in the case of this individual? Of course not, but unfairly, the same measure is not applied by everyone. Instead of simply thinking that I was bypassed because I was white, I would simply assume that we all naturally gravitate to those with whom we are more likely to share similar tastes and cultures.
While there are obviously many cases of racial discrimination, some of it overt and some intentional, I believe that we simply overuse the term.
I recently read an article by a university professor stating that he believed that he benefited from what he called “white privilege.” He reasoned that by being white in a white society, this made him more likely to be given a pass for his short-comings. He is probably right. He then stated that we should work to undo this injustice. I say hogwash.
Were I to travel to a predominantly black nation, I would no doubt be looked upon in a different way than a black person would. Whether this is wrong in some people’s eyes, it is a simple fact and a perfectly reasonable response from anyone. Maybe I simply have a calm heart, but for the life of me, I wouldn’t feel offended. I wouldn’t be walking down the street feeling slighted, I would simply understand that I come from a different culture and that is fine. In time, people would perhaps judge me for who I am, but that would take some effort on my part.
I have found myself at the local mall surrounded by a group of young black people before. For the life of me, I usually have to exert some effort to understand their brand of English, one that is filled with the spirit of their culture and one that sounds nothing like the English that I use. That doesn’t make it bad, simply different. I believe that they carry on this language barrier to separate themselves and to continue their own heritage. Again, I think this is healthy.
One must realize though, that by doing these things, it sets them apart from the mainstream and it puts them into an entirely different culture. It is this culture difference that I find most people can’t overlook; not simply one’s colour or race. Were I to travel to a foreign land and devise a way to speak their tongue and put my own cultural twist on it, I would find it rather difficult to not be looked on as different.
I am hardly suggesting that we all become the same. That would be a travesty. But I do think that it is time that we stop labeling so many things as racism and start to understand that there may be other deciding factors in the way people treat us.