Discriminating minds

Random Nuclear Strikes has some musings on the word “racist”, in which he says:

I see racism as a simple idea: Any act that discounts one race over another, whether malicious or not.

If the word racism is broken down to its roots we get the following: Race-noun: 1= a family, tribe, people or nation of same stock. Ism-noun (suffix): 1 = act; practice; process. 2: a manner of action or behavior characteristic of a person or thing. 3 = doctrine; theory; cult. 4 = adherence to a set of principles. 5 = prejudice or discrimination on the basis of an attribute.

The word Racist breaks down the same way only that instead of focusing on the abstract, the suffix Ist focuses on the individual.

So the textbook definition of the words Racism and Racist would seem to be on my side.

However, Websterâ??s defines Racism as a noun meaning: a belief that some races are by nature superior to others. And Racist as: discrimination based on such a belief.

Clearly, the english language isnâ??t on the side of Websterâ??s, who has prefered to use only the more popular definition, a pejorative, rather than the one which uses the actual rules of language to define it.

Isnâ??t a white male who prefers to only have relations with asian women a racist, just as is a black male who prefers to only have relations with white women? No one is being harmed by these selections (unless one of the males in question is actually serial killer), but the decisions are based on racial preferences.

Unfortunately, due to the popularization of the pejorative use of racist, only white males who object to interracial dating are considered racists (oddly enough, black males who donâ??t like white men dating black women get a pass on their prejudice, but that is another story Iâ??ll save for another day).

In college I remember walking into a room in my dorm, and the two occupants (who, as it happens, were black) were arguing over the relative attributes of the women whose posters adorned their respective sides of the room. The women in question were Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson. As I had walked in at a critical point in the heated discussion, they both turned to me and demanded to know which I though was the better looking.

I regarded the one poster, then the other, and after a moment’s consideration, responded “Michelle Pfeiffer”.

“You racist!” one of them said. The other just started laughing and nodding.

“Racist what???” I said. “Paula Abdul’s white!”

“No she not! She’s hispanic!”

“Whatever. Looks white to me. I still say Michelle Pfeiffer.” And I walked out. That’s probably the only time in my life I’ve been called racist.

Enough storytime. While this blogger’s definition is linguisitically correct, the meanings of words can change over time, (else we would all be talking like Chaucer*). For the most part, the definition of a word is best defined as whatever the sigificant majority of society believes it to be, as words are actually just “codes” representing ideas and objects in the real world, and are meaningless if people don’t agree on what they mean.

It would probably be accurate for the dictionaries to add his definition at the bottom and list it as “archaic” or “obsolete”, as, while linguistically and historically accurate, it is no longer used as such in the common parlance.

The exception to this rule, in my mind, is when words (usually deliberately) are blurred in such a way that “all words mean the same thing”. This is generally a technique used in various forms of moral relativism — deliberate distortion of the distinctions between words in order to suggest that two dissimilar things are in fact exactly the same.

…but I don’t think that’s really the case here, per se.

On the other hand, I often make a very similar argument regarding the word discriminate. The mere act of looking at a person and saying, “that’s a man”, or “that person is black”, or for that matter “that’s not a chair, it’s a stool”, is discrimination — as discrimination is simply the act of making distinctions.

Notably, in the story I told about the posters, I was the only one not discriminating racially.

* Actually, we would all be talking like cavemen — in unarticulated grunts and gestures.

Comments are invited and encouraged

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