Friday, October 1, 2010

That's Racist?

I think that in writing this post I may have missed the mark a little. I'm not saying people can't be prejudiced, that they can't offend with their words and actions. I am saying that on the receiving end of said words, people are too quick to cry "RACISM." It's exactly like The Boy Who Cried Wolf. When every offense is punctuated by the thought that it was racist simply because it was offensive, it undermines the times when someone is legitimately wronged based on the color of their skin.

I apparently wrote this article a day and a half too soon, as LeBron James and his manager have come out and said themselves that they think the hate against James has a racial undertone to it.

While I disagree with many that racism is a complex issue, I unfortunately over-simplified the discussion by using a dictionary definition of the word in my last post. I don't think prejudiced thought is gone from our society; in fact, I said the opposite, in that people will always have a prejudice because there's something innately human about finding flaws in others to make ourselves look better. People will always be biased about something. However, I don't think the collective racism that was standard throughout the founding of our country up to the 1970s or so exists anymore.

Let me reiterate: the Ku Klux Klan and other white-supremacy groups may still meet in backwoods fire departments, and the Black Panthers may hold gatherings in their houses. But those are the principles that our country was founded on. No, not that clandestine groups can plot destruction against others, but that people of like mind may freely assemble, may speak freely, and may express their own ideas as they wish. But the second they infringe on the rights of others--say, attacking someone on their way home from school--then they should be punished to the full extent of the law.

Despite what a misguided majority of the American people believe, there is no "right to not be offended." In fact, I'm probably offending people at this moment by writing this blog post. And I hope that I am, because it means that A) I still live in a country where I can express myself freely; and 2) you still live in a country where you have the freedom to read this (or not) and disagree with me (or not). People will say offensive things... it's their right to speak freely. You can try to not listen, which is not always easy in this Information-overload era we live in. But rather than screaming "Racist!" and demanding certain types of speech be regulated, why not join in the discussion and try to change these people's minds and then their tongues?

But allow me to go back to something I mentioned earlier--racism is not a complex issue. To me, a complex issue is something that has many levels which are in turn difficult to define, not unlike the dream navigation that took place in the recent movie Inception. But what about this idea we call racism? Well, to my child-like mind it seems to only have 2 layers, or faces really. Something is either racist, or it's not (and most often it's not).

When regarding a "racist" action or comment, there are only two options: YES or NO? Up or Down? Black or White? Was it racist, or wasn't it? Again, I think the reason many people get so worked up over things they think are racist is because they confuse offending someone with racism.

Don Imus was fired from his job for calling the Rutgers University women's basketball team "nappy-headed hoes" on his radio show. It was an inappropriate comment made about a team that did very well in the NCAA tournament, and it was perfectly within CBS's right as his employer to fire him. But the outrage towards Don Imus went completely overboard. I think context says a good deal about someone's mindset as well, and Don Imus is a radio personality not unlike Howard Stern and Bubba the Love Sponge, but with far less popularity. Therefore, when he calls a bunch of college girls "nappy-headed hoes," it is in very poor taste, but nothing out of the ordinary for him and his ilk.

Another story involves Michael Richards and his "comedic" tirade at a stand-up show. This is one of those cases that is harder to argue about because of the specific word that Richards used. But again, I think context plays a larger part in this. The man is doing stand-up and bombing, so when he gets heckled by some members of the audience he tries to go after them to jump-start his act. I'm not excusing his actions, but it's not as if he's throwing these epithets at some church-going grandmother that only asked him if he'd like some tea. In other words, it was a rant made in extemely poor taste but he was going after shock laughs, and the outrage towards him was overblown.

I suppose my rants on racism are really more of a problem with the push onslaught of political correctness in our country. Everyone has to fit under a singular label--i.e. Democrat/Republican, liberal/conservative, white/black--and those who don't are thrown into any pile anyways. Someone always has to be the blame for something, and it's generally easier to blame an individual by the group to which they officially or unofficially belong. As racist speech is often the type that is most often cited as needing to be regulated, I am therefore quick to defend those accused of being racist and point out the flaws of calling someone racist. I think more discussion, and less reactionary yelling, is the only thing that will solve this issue.

Even more so now, in the Age of the Internet, cries of racism should ring hollow. Who is the person behind the comment? Do they even really feel that way, or are they being sarcastic? The truth is it doesn't matter. Who cares what they say? You can either choose to let it affect you or you can be the bigger person and move on with life. You can fuel the idiotic fire of people like Don Imus, Michael Richards, and Mark Williams by falling for their race-baiting, or you can say, "You know what? I'm not who they say I am. I'm (insert name here) and I won't be affected by what others think of me."

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