'It's racist!' is losing its meaning

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By Arlene Jones

Columnist

I am amused at how the term "racist" is now bandied about by everyone as the arbitrary response to any kind of critique or criticism. Black people who were once the primary folks to label others with that term now find that others and even blacks themselves are quick to bandy the word about black people. 

Let's start with the definition of racist per my online dictionary: a person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another. 

What does it mean to be racist? Well if we listen to many who spew the word about, white people are automatically racist and easily labeled with the word. Their skin color gives everyone the entire world over the right to call them that. I'm exaggerating in this regard, but it is especially convenient if the person doing the calling is unhappy with a particular situation.

Black folks used to quickly claim that we can't be racist because we have never had the powers to control and institutionalize it. But as the "browning of America" is happening, blacks are now eligible to be labeled with it too. Whites unhappy with any situation are quick to holler "racism" along with "reverse discrimination." Then we also have the new "cultural appropriation" movement. That terminology, used by certain young black people, will harp on perceived abuse by others of a different peoples' culture. But it is also often a one-sided lament. For example, whites can't wear dreadlocks but don't anyone dare counter it by mentioning black women and weave. Bruno Mars doesn't fit neatly into their perceived racial categories so it is his fault and not their categorization.

The terminology of Hispanics and Latinos is a made-up one that began in the 1970s. It doesn't have a racial component to it (contrary to what some like to profess) as it comprises many different racial groups. Even within the group, there is controversy since Brazilians speak Portuguese and thus Hispanic (Spanish) doesn't describe them, but Latino (Latin) does. Then add in Mexico which likes to remind everyone that it is a part of North America and not Latin America and thus Latino doesn't apply to them. Yet no one calls them racist for not wanting to be called Latino. 

Racist is now morphing into a word that no longer has the meaning and nuance it once had. There was a time when the image of a George Wallace blocking the entrance to a school was the epitome of a racist. Or Bull Connors siccing the dogs on blacks marching for their civil rights. Or someone wearing a white robe and burning a cross.

Today the word is used most often whenever someone is upset with a situation. Can't get into a college and someone else did? Scream racism. Enter this country illegally, get caught and be on the deportation list? Scream racism. Born one gender and decide that you want to be the other gender and use that gender's bathroom while still maintaining the genitalia you were born with and people say no? Scream racism.

The first usage of the word racism occurred in 1902, then morphed into a noun (racist) in 1932 and as an adjective in 1938. 

For every phony racist charge, there is a legitimate one. The question is how much dilution of the term can occur before it becomes neutralized in our response to it? 

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