Friday, September 18, 2009

Diluting the Sting of Racism Charges

MSNBC (yes, really, I had to look twice) carries an AP analysis (yes, AP, really) decrying profligate charges of racism.

Our society is not free of genuine racism, though mercifully racism is less common than it used to be. We should not relent in rooting out genuine racism, but in so doing, we should not use the term loosely.

Labeling opposition to Barack Obama's policy proposals as necessarily racist is an abuse of the term, because it unfairly libels innocent people with a vile charge. But worse than that abuse, doing so leads to resentment of charges of racism and to taking the charges less seriously. That result is counter-productive of eliminating racism.

Once upon a time calling someone a Communist was a serious slur in the eyes of almost all Americans. At least partly because of the excesses of the McCarthy era, the charge lost its sting in many quarters and some now regard the charge itself as antiquated even when it fits, as in the case of Hugo Chaves.

We must all hope that a consequence of Barack Obama's presidency is not to lessen the sting of a racism charge. That is not the direction in which our society needs to go. Those throwing the charge around need to bear that in mind.

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