Why ‘Racistly’ Is an Adverb to Add to Your Vocabulary Now

We can’t get it right if we call it wrong

Sam McKenzie Jr.
Apr 2 · 4 min read

SNOOZE FLASH — the Associated Press (AP) has updated its 2019 Stylebook with guidance for the media to follow about race and racism, but it’s not a news flash that the AP didn’t go far enough.

Their point was to instruct journalists to uncover and specify what’s racist and racism without using euphemisms in their news reports. Good luck!

After decades of dastardliness and damage, the AP has finally decided, way too late, in 2019, to listen to Black People and People of Color who have long led the charge against terms like “racially charged.”

The ridiculousness of insulting words like “racially tinged” has gone on for too long. Has racism ever merely tinged anything?

The AP now says people should use the words racist and racism when those words apply. I don’t disagree. But a preview of the AP’s updated style still leaves several terms untouched that people should also turn down now.

Dr. Ibram Kendi, an antiracism expert, responded with a tweet to suggest the term ‘racial bias’ and similar euphemisms be next for the list.

Here’s my opinion — the word ‘racial’ and its adverb ‘racially’ need to retire and expire entirely.

Just like Omarosa Manigault-Newman — when she said Donald Trump is ‘racial’ but not racist — those words have been working too long and too hard to cover for race and racism. When people use those terms, they bury the lede. They bury what should lead everyone to racism and its evidence.

Today, the word ‘racial’ means pertaining to race or occurring between races. But there are no biological races in humans, so what are we talking about with that word?

Technically, the word ‘racial’ implies and implicates racists and racism — just like the words racial-ism and racial-ist — but people don’t see it or use it that way.

Lawrence Glickman, a historian, has an outstanding piece in the Boston Review with the history of how America went from Strom Thurmond “racist” to Donald Trump “racially tinged.”

He describes those ‘racial’ words as semantic somersaults which “serve to stabilize race” and he says they wrongly suggest “race can possess both positive and negative valences.”

The historian Barbara Fields and her sister Karen Fields, a sociologist, also take issue with those terms in their book Racecraft. To them, no one is biracial and, certainly, no one can be trans-racial. Likewise, the sisters say the term ‘racial justice’ is an oxymoron.

I’ve made those mistakes — but no more. I see now you can’t have races and ‘racial justice.’ Ta-Nehisi Coates makes a similar point in his essay How Racism Invented Race in America. He writes that ‘racial discrimination’ and other terms “obscure the current conflict.”

We need the opposite of obscurity. Race and racism are discriminatory. The term ‘racial discrimination’ is redundant. The words ‘race’ and ‘racial’ can present and pretend like they’re innocuously separate-but-equal terms for humanity, but they aren’t.

Doesn’t an antiracist have to be anti-race?

In her book, Fatal Invention, the legal scholar and sociologist, Dorothy Roberts says the idea that race is biological continues today because it’s politically useful.

Race is politically useful, but many people don’t use race in the right ways politically. We need race for justice. The disparities and differences we call ‘racial’ are really racist and racism.

So, the translation for racial profiling is — racist profiling. The translation for racial disparities is — racist disparities. And the translation for racial preference is — racist preference.

Who’s going to make those updates for the press and the public, and when?

Likewise, we don’t have a racial wealth gap. We don’t have a racial income gap. We don’t have racial health disparities. We don’t even have racial disparities in mass incarceration. It’s all racist. We must say so.

Those disparities come from racist people, racist policies, racist systems, racist structures, and intergenerational advantages and disadvantages that were, and are, racist. Those disparities are the difference of racism.

So, with all the racism we have, why isn’t there a verb or an adverb for racism?

We have the verb ‘racialize’ which means to give a racial character to someone or something, which I would argue is racist. But people don’t understand the word ‘racialize’ as racist or racism.

That lack of understanding exposes our issue with words and their meanings. We have nouns and adjectives. We need an adverb like ‘racistly.’

Apparently, some people already use the word; more people should do the same. YourDictionary.com, Wikitionary, and Urban Dictionary all include ‘racistly’ as an entry. But it’s not in Merriam-Webster or other dictionary sources.

It’s happening every day, but not here.

That has to change. Every single day, there are people and systems that act and react racistly, and yet we don’t have the word. The muffled and muddled workarounds are not working. As they say, it’s not a flaw, it’s a feature. It’s all racistly designed, and we know why.

You also know I have a word on this subject from the scholar-activist bell hooks. In her essay, “Choosing the Margin as a Space of Radical Openness,” bell hooks writes, “language is a place of struggle.”

We need more people to struggle with these words, and to struggle against these words.

With this struggle, we must pick up new words, and put the right words to work. This struggle is really real. Don’t muzzle the struggle.

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Sam McKenzie Jr.

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I combat racism with verbicide and literary devices. https://www.patreon.com/SamMcKenzieJr | http://ko-fi.com/sammc