The World’s Second Most Offensive Question: Are You a Racist?

Posted: June 16, 2014 in Capitalism, Economics, Language Use, Livin' in the USA, Politics
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Front cover of "The Heretic's Handbook of Quotationsby Chaz Bufe, publisher See Sharp Press

A couple of weeks ago an acquaintance (who I’ve know for roughly 20 years) was very excited about the article on reparations (for African-Americans) in The Atlantic. He called me to talk about it (of course he hadn’t read it–I hadn’t either), and I said something to the effect of “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” I added that it’s a given that black people have been, and still are being, screwed over mercilessly in this country, but that I thought reparations demands were a really dumb idea, unless they were very specifically targeted against institutions that have exploited black people (e.g., banks’ and their “red-lining” practices).

He didn’t want to hear my reasons for saying that.

Those reasons are 1) blanket “reparation” demands–with “reparations” presumably financed by the government–divide working people along racial lines; 2) political goals and demands should be along economic lines, the 1% versus the rest of us (which unites people); 3) “reparations” demands are not demands for fundamental change–they implicitly accept the current corporate-capitalist political and economic set-up; 4) they reinforce the scarcity mentality that’s a huge stumbling block in the path of real social change–they reinforce the idea that there’s not enough to go around, and that the only way to reimburse some victims is to take from other victims. (And please, let’s not start playing the “who’s more oppressed?” game. If you want to divide and depress people, that’s a great way to do it.); and 5) there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell of blanket “reparations” becoming reality any time soon–the primary effect of such demands is to drive the white working class into the arms of the Republicans.

To put this another way, if you want to get rid of corporate capitalism, don’t play into the hands of the corporate capitalists. If you’re going to make reformist economic demands, make demands that unite low and middle income people (increased minimum wage, increased taxes on the 1%, etc.), not divide them along racial lines.

My acquaintance didn’t want to hear any of that, and wouldn’t even let me articulate it–he kept interrupting me, and started playing the “who’s more oppressed?” game, among other things belittling the experience of my illiterate immigrant grandfather who worked for 40 years in a foundry before dying a horrible death of silicosis. When I took strong exception to that, he asked me, “Are you a racist?” At that point, I went ballistic.

Here’s why:

1) The “question” “Are you a racist?” is dishonest. It’s a trap, not an honest question. The person asking it is not seeking information, they’re not interested in your answer. They’re setting you up. If you say “yes,” they win. If you say “no,”  they’ll “enlighten” you by reciting standard PC talking points about how all white people are “privileged” and “racist.”

2) “Are you a racist?” is an accusation, not a question. There’s no way to win when someone asks you that, if you fall into the trap of answering “yes” or “no.” But there are two ways of handling that “question.” The first, as Jim Goad recently pointed out, consists of asking the person implying racism on your part to define racism. As Goad notes, that almost always “flummoxes” them.

The second way to handle that question is to in turn ask the world’s most offensive question: “Do you have sex with your mother?” (Just askin’, you know? What’s the harm in asking a simple question?) Goad’s way of dealing with the racism “question” is probably better, but this is probably more gratifying.

3) Asking someone “Are you a racist?” is condescending. The accuser invariably assumes that you are a racist,  that you need to be tricked into hearing the accuser’s prepared pearls of wisdom, and that you’re dumb enough to fall for it.

4) The PC use of  “racism” trivializes the term. The painfully earnest PC types who label every white person a “racist,” simply because they’re white, use exactly the same term to describe those who say disgusting things about and commit violence against people of other races. There’s a major difference between what you project is in someone’s head simply because of their race (white) and violent physical assault. So, please, stop trivializing the terms “racism” and  “racist.” Reserve them for those who say and do hurtful things based on race.

And don’t ever ask anyone that stupid, insulting question again. Stop using verbal traps. Be honest. Openly say what you mean–not hide behind “questions” that are accusations–and only ask questions if you want information, not as transparent attempts to set people up.

Comments
  1. […] The World's Second Most Offensive Question: Are You a Racist? […]

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  2. […] U.S.) And a hell of a lot of us also reject self-flagellating multiculturalism. (For example, see The World’s Second Most Offensive Question, posted on Sharp and Pointed in June of last […]

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