When 'Racism' Loses Its Meaning
Mention George Orwell's name, and most people think of Animal Farm (1945) or 1984 (1949). Fewer will recall his 1946 essay, "Politics and the English Language."
That's a shame, because that essay is an insightful analysis of how words' meaning can be manipulated to advance political causes.
On the surface, Orwell's essay was about how the English language has been debased, and how language corruption cripples our ability to comprehend what writers mean. An implication is that as words' meaning becomes obtuse, ideological causes can be advanced.
One example of how a word's corrupted meaning has buttressed a political cause in America is "racism." A word which once had a specific meaning -- see below -- has become like "fascism" was when Orwell wrote in 1946: a word that has "no meaning except it signifies 'something not desirable.'"
Charges of "Racism!" are a major weapon in the Left's arsenal. All the Left has to do to send foes running for the tall clover is yell "Racism!" Everything from opposition to Obama's über-leftist agenda, to criticism of Eric Holder, to opposition to illegal immigration, to reaction to the Supreme Court's invalidation of portions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act engenders the same accusation: "Racism!"
The latest celebrity to be undone by the "Racism!" charge is Paula Deen, who has lost several business arrangements after admitting she uttered the "N"-word in the past. She hastily apologized, but to no avail. Now Random House has canceled publication of her next book, illustrating that when the charge is "Racism!" the First Amendment takes a back seat to the bottom line.
Deen joins a long list of personalities who have had their lives and careers ruined because they ran afoul of the thought police over the race issue.
We've also been treated to the notion that the phrase "crazy a**ed cracker," spoken by Trayvon Martin to Rachel Jeantel the night he died, and repeated by her at George Zimmerman's show trial, is not a racist comment.
Before language became so corrupted, those words would have definitely had a racial connotation. But not now, evidently.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary's definition of "racism" is "the belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race."
As someone born in the rural Midwest in the 1940s, and especially as someone who traveled in the South prior to the civil rights movement, I've seen racism. I am also old enough to have seen the tremendous strides this country has made dealing with race. Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey, and Barack Obama; each name symbolizes the profound changes in how the United States of America has dealt with race since the end of World War II.
I am also old enough to realize how one narrow slice of our society has learned to use the charge of "Racism!" to cow their foes and advance their political agenda.
Two examples illustrate the points made in the immediately preceding paragraphs.
What was a racist 70 years ago (1943)? Someone who believed in innate racial differences, feared "miscegenation," and opposed any -- however small -- lessening of de jure segregation. (Some racists used violence to prevent, or at least delay, Jim Crow's end.)
What is a racist in 2013? Anyone who in the slightest way deviates from political correctness insofar as that witch's brew concerns the topic of race. Believe in individualism? You're a racist! Believe the XIVth Amendment guarantees equal protection of the laws for all? You're a racist! Don't think everyone should be equal in everything? You're a racist! Support the Tea Party? You're really a racist!! Yada. Yada. Yada.
Once upon a time, racial slurs were readily perceived. Imagine that in 1943 someone said, "N-word(s) just aren't as smart as whites." Message received... and understood.
Imagine that in 2013 someone says, "Chicago, which has one of this nation's most restrictive gun-control laws, has a high rate of gun-related crimes." According to a politically-correct "anti-racist," "That sentence uses 'dog-whistles' to appeal to 'racists,' which is confirmed by mentioning 'Chicago.'"
Notice, when "racism" circa 1943 is juxtaposed to "racism" circa 2013, specificity is supplanted by ambiguity.
Don't expect that, so long as left-wing extremists' tactic of cowing opponents with the "Racism!" charge works, they will cease using it. My guess is that now that Deen has been sent packing, we'll see more of this tactic.
It isn't just that racism's meaning has become so blurred that even the most innocent remark -- if made by the "wrong" person -- can be construed as "Racism!" It's also that there is a double standard; a racial slur made decades ago by Deen -- a comment made in private after she had been robbed at gun-point -- has had devastating consequences for her life and career. At the same time, Martin and later Jeantel can utter racially tinged remarks, and Leftists spring to their defense.
Indeed, almost immediately after Jeantel testified, at least two blogs were posted defending her and attacking whites' innate "Racism!" The first, posted on globalgrind.com on June 26, by Rachel Samara, was entitled "What White People Don't Understand about Rachel Jeantel." The next day, Christina Coleman posted "Why Black People Understand Rachel Jeantel" on the same blog. The two posts' titles tell everything we need to know.
Is there any way to confront this double standard? We're never going to get Leftists to cease and desist, unless and until they learn very few people -- outside their small circle --are listening to their blather.
Even so, let me reiterate. The odds are against making a big difference in the short run. The U.S. did not get into this one-sided racial predicament overnight, and it will not overcome the racial double-standard overnight.
It would take a very long essay to cover all the reasons America has gotten mired in an essentially one-sided "conversation" over race. Suffice it here to point just to one reason. Just as Orwell warned in 1946, corruption of a word's meaning -- "Racism!" -- has had political consequences. Namely, it has given Leftists the moral high ground, and put everyone else at Leftists' not-so-tender mercy.
The time has come to put an end to vague and corrupt usage of the "R"-word. If that were done, the U.S. would have taken a single, albeit essential, step toward restoring sanity and balance to a long-overdue discussion of race relations.
Imagine what a country that does not "tolerate" vague and corrupt usage of the "R"-word might be like. For one thing, we might not have any more show trials like George Zimmerman is going through now.