"Well," she retorted, "you're a racist."
I was shocked. I'd really never been called a racist before, much less by someone who hadn't known me for more than about two minutes ... over the phone. I did what any good editor would do: I transferred the complaining reader directly to the reporter who covered the story she believed was racist ... who happened to be a very good, young black reporter.
Linda Wallace, a veteran black journalist who writes a syndicated column called The Cultural Coach, addressed that very issue in her latest piece, "Think Before Using the Word 'Racist.'" She writes, in part:
"In workshops, many white Americans often admit being called a racist is the insult they fear the most. Some avoid holding sticky, but necessary, racial conversations because that word could be used to attack them. Others say the word is a dangerous weapon, yet it often is used without first allowing the intended target an opportunity to mount a defense."
Wallace suggests that a white person is insulted by being called a "racist" almost as much as an African-American is insulted by being called a "nigger," and makes her case for using both words only sparingly or not at all.
I agree. "Racist" is a word too casually thrown around these days, and it often suggests bias/racism on the speaker's part. How? If a black person can call a white person she's never met a "racist" after only two minutes of casual, non-racial conversation, it belies a feeling that all white people must harbor ill will for African-Americans and the surface needn't even be scratched to find it.