Friday, December 15, 2006

'Racist' is the white man's N-word

I hadn't been in my job as a Texas newspaper editor very long when a reader called to complain. In the reader's mind we hadn't given enough attention to a story about the football team at a primarily black local high school where her son was a player. Oh, there was a story, but the reader believed we should have written more and played it bigger. I listened to her and explained that while more might have been done, the story was a perfectly fine piece.

"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.


jillmalitz said...

It is too bad that we have become so afraid of what we say. It seems the minute we open our mouths we offend someone. That is ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

racism is no longer the most important issue regarding reace relations in america.

Something new has emerged, more destructive and more pivotal to solving our nations racial issues.

Black attitudes are now the most threatening thing to the future of black americans.

I started a blog to discuss my views and see who agrees.

SingingSkies said...

And you would have transferred the reader to the reporter who covered the story even if s/he were white, right?

You're correct, though. The term does get used too casually, especially when someone's upset. The net result is to block further discussion and keep true understanding from happening.

I've learned a lot from Linda Wallace's columns. She is a very wise woman. The world would be a much better place if more of us practiced what she preaches (myself included!).

Anonymous said...

i think it is really asinine of any black person to think that white people are not racist, they are by their very nature the most insidious racists to ever inhabit the earth, they are the natural enemy to black people everywhere, they are the world's greatest robbers,murders,rapists and have committed atrocities all over the world. every decison that they make in regards to black people is predicated by their racsim

Ron Franscell said...

Anon, without question, that's the most racist rant I have ever heard. "All" whites have a racist gene?

It must be horrible to be such a paranoid bigot.