Sunday, 4 March 2012

This Is Racism?!

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

Let me be absolutely clear. If I've successfully made the point that I want to make in this blog, there should be no mistaking the fact that I am neither racist nor advocating racism. I will not respond to anyone who makes such an accusation. What I want to argue, and nothing more, is that we are ridiculously quick to call people racists and under a ridiculously broad definition. Alright, let's get to it.

If I were to call someone fat, that person might be offended. It might, on the other hand, roll off their back. I might be challenged by others for my insult or not. Regardless, it is generally seen as uncalled for to call someone fat. However, the incident is likely to have very little real impact on anyone. It might even be a sign of affection if I mentioned a friend's weight during a conversation, if it falls under the description of banter.

The above is true for most insults: hair colour, height, fashion sense, music taste, movie taste etc.

When it comes to age and gender, there are some differences. Some people really don't like it if you make an age related insult, and it could have a lasting effect on how you are viewed if you make such a remark. I've seen this personally. Other times, it'll fall into the above categories. As for gender, it depends on the gender and the insult used. If you call a guy anything (e.g. a dick), it's unlikely to cause any more offence than most other appearance-based insults. If you insult a woman, it depends on the woman and the word used, but generally "bitch" is similar to "dick", whereas "slut", "whore", "ho" or "cunt" can have a lasting impact.

And then there's race. It really doesn't matter what your skin colour or ethnicity is, all race-based insults are taboo. People are even terrified of describing race-based characteristics for fear of being labelled racist. Even impressions which make use of race-based characteristics are considered racist. Miley Cyrus was criticised when she and her friends pulled back their eyes and made an "asian" face, even though there was an Asian boy in the photo, who was clearly friends with them, and it was a friendly jab at him. As for using any 1 word insult along the lines of "bitch" or "dick", don't even think about it!

In short, we have a double standard. There are differences between how different targets of insults are treated and no rational reason for having this double standard. Some people might point to our history. They may say that these women are sensitive to such insults because they were once viewed to be inferior to men, and that certain races were viewed the same way, and that certain ages still are (albeit there are better reasons for doing so with respect to age). Of course, in many places, this tendency to value certain types of human beings differently still exists. However, there is a difference between saying that someone is inferior to you, and using one of their physical features as a target of an insult. In most cases, someone who does the latter doesn't think the former. It's not hard to figure out which is the case. If they talk down to you, if they're aggressive towards you for no other reason that makes sense to you, then it's the former. If you know them and they're angry for some reason, especially if you made them that way, in the heat of passion, they'll use what they see on you against you. Even if it's a stranger, the remark may not have been intended in the dehumanising manner.

Now, why am I bothering to write about this? Does it matter that we exaggerate claims of racism? Of course it does. Getting along with people requires common ground. If people are afraid to even point out someone's ethnicity, there will always be tension and uneasiness around any conversation which even seems like it's approaching the issue. Even having to think about avoiding the issue makes their different ethnicity stand out to you all the more. It makes their ethnicity the 1st thing you notice about them and, while that's not racism in and of itself, it might lead to some subconscious unwitting behaviours such as trying to avoid looking at them or the opposite, staring at them. These may not seem substantial but, on a large scale, they could make a huge difference. Bottom line, you want their skin colour and other ethnic features to be just another few physical features, just something else which makes them them.

Racism, to me, is viewing someone as inferior based on their ethnicity. That's as far as my definition stretches. I never insult anyone, but to me, an insult which involves someone's race, and nothing more than that, is not racism. Yes, treatment of people based on race has an unusually chequered past, but we shouldn't be focusing on that. We should be assessing racism outside of all cultural contexts and based on logic. Doing so has led me to the following conclusions:

- The moral weight of insults varies in relation to offence caused and not what trait is attacked.
- Each trait differs as to whether the individual was born with it or not, whether it has a beneficial or detrimental effect on their health, and what it means they are able to do, and none of this is the primary basis for determining the moral weight of an insult on principle, regardless of offence. It should be.
- Our current society should strive to meet these logical ideals.

The big civil rights issue of the 21st century is LGBT rights. We are starting to make the same mistakes around bisexual, homosexual and transgender people as well, and we're already well along that path. Let's quit while we're ahead and bask in conversations where mentioning any physical or psychological feature is not taboo, with the intention of creating a healthier, more humane society. Let's strive never to insult anyone, and to never view insulting someone based on a certain attribute of them as being akin to truly horrible crimes. Let's be rational.


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