I decide to read comments sections on posts about political and social issues depending on how angry or upset I want to become on that day. I’m all for political discourse, and I really feel that talking is the true answer to most social issues most of the time, but the comments are often where the opinions of the upset yet uninformed are to be found. This isn’t to say every commenter is as such, but too many. Parroted opinions and cut and paste arguments happen constantly. These vary from the ever creative, “But her emails,” to the perennial, “If [Fill in the name of a past president/candidate here] had done this you wouldn’t complain so why complain when Trump does it?” The one argument that I see happen the most, and seems to happen on literally any and every post, is fighting over which ethnicities can or cannot be racist.
I am not going to debate who can and who can’t be racist. I am looking at why I think the arguments happen. Well, that is aside from being an important link in the chain of reasoning that leads to the “Not all [Fill in the name of a non-oppressed group here].” I guess I should get something out of the way first. I am white, but I am not a white apologist. I am someone of very little means and no political influence, but even I see where white privilege has helped me through my life. I have no time for the outdated, hateful opinions of people who refuse to see the disadvantages of non-Eurocentric, nonwhite, non-Christians in a country where Eurocentric Christian white people make up 2/3 of the population and hold 90% of the wealth. I am not going to debate who can and can’t be racist, because there is no debate.
What this is, is an explanation of the roots of a simple misunderstanding of some people. It is unfortunately a misunderstanding that many people want to exploit to turn the uninformed against other people. It is a misunderstanding that is easily remedied with a few words and a simple google search. More people should be willing to do that google search, to listen as African-American men and women defend themselves online every day. The fact that more people don’t look into it deeper and don’t listen is a problem in and of itself, but that is a discussion for another day. This issue I am speaking of is the difference between the definition and the meaning of a word.
Let’s look at a simple example. The word American. One definition of the noun form is “a native or citizen of the United States,” according to google. When many people say American that is what they mean. That is the definition of an American. What is the meaning of American as a noun? What does it mean to be American? That depends on who you ask and when you ask them. Words meanings change over time, so how they are used changes. As this happens the dictionaries play keep up and change definitions over time. This past year alone Oxford updated its definition of the word “woke” to add the adjective form defined as, “Alert to injustice in society, especially racism.” American has changed, woke has changed, and like it or not “racism” and “racist” have both changed in meaning, if not in literal dictionary definition yet.
Racism is now meant as the system in White America and other Eurocentric nations that uses the institutions of society like prisons, courts, schools, military, and most others to keep minority races down. A Racist is white American or Eurocentric person who takes part in that system either by benefiting from it, and/or sustaining it. Can a African-American be racist under that meaning? No. A member of a minority group can be a bigot, they can have bias against someone for skin color, sure, but don’t be confused, this is not nearly the same thing.
If you feel slighted, or upset over an African-American showing bias towards you sometime in your life, just try to imagine how you would feel about going to jail for years over a marijuana possession due to a racist system that arrests you more often than African-Americans for the same possession charge, gives you jail-time more often, and usually a longer sentence, all because of the color of your skin you had no choice but to be born with. I don’t have the answers to racism, and I doubt anyone else has them all either. The real answers come when we ask questions and actually listen for the answers. I am white and I am not forming my opinions based on what I think and feel from my own experiences. I didn’t understand the differences between what the dictionary said and what people mean until I asked, until I looked into it myself. What I do know is that no one on Earth should start out worse off in life because of who they were born as. At the heart of the issue is the bias of a single person versus the discrimination of the whole system, and that is the difference between the definition and meaning of Racist.