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Definition of ‘racist’
Posted: 16 June 2014 04:37 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I got into an online debate with someone who took exception to the description of the film Braveheart as ‘racist poisonous *beep*’ on the grounds that ‘the movie can’t be racist because all the people in it belong to the same racial group of white Northern Europeans’. I was about to docket this person as an etymological-fallacy-monger, the kind who insists that ‘you can’t be anti-Semitic unless you also hate Arabs, Copts, Assyrians, etc.’, when s/he added ‘Would it be ‘racist’ to say I disliked Canadians?’, clearly implying that this was a self-evidently nonsensical suggestion.

This made me think I was dealing with a cross-pond difference in meaning. Because here in the UK not only does the legal definition of racism cover “nationality (including citizenship) or ethnic or national origins” but the popular definition does the same. Most people in Britain (I can’t answer for Ireland) would assent to the proposition that ‘I hate Canadians’, ‘Jews Out!’ ‘Kill a Paki!’ ‘The Irish are murdering bigots’, ‘You can’t trust a Frenchman’ are all equally racist statements.

Is this not so in Leftpondia? Is the term over there restricted to colour, rather than ethnicity in a more general sense?

[Edited link to make it work--dw]

[ Edited: 16 June 2014 06:28 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 16 June 2014 04:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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It’s obviously a complicated and fraught subject, but I would agree there’s a transatlantic difference, because it does seem self-evidently nonsensical to me (and I would guess to most Yanks) to say one is racist against Canadians.  One complication is that the definition of “white” has changed dramatically over the years; in the nineteenth century Italians and Irish, for instance, were not considered of the Anglo-Saxon/white “race.” It’s interesting to me to learn that in the UK “racism” now encompasses such a wide field.

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Posted: 16 June 2014 06:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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The OED entry for race n.6, which is rather recent (2008), would not seem to incorporate this wider meaning:

I. A group of people, animals, or plants, connected by common descent or origin.
1.a. A group of people belonging to the same family and descended from a common ancestor; a house, family, kindred.
b. A tribe, nation, or people, regarded as of common stock. In early use freq. with modifying adjective, as British race, Roman race, etc.
c. A group of several tribes or peoples, regarded as forming a distinct ethnic set.
d. According to various more or less formal systems of classification: any of the major groupings of mankind, having in common distinct physical features or having a similar ethnic background.

This definition accords with what I’ve experienced as the North American usage. (Although in US usage the term can sometimes specifically connote African-American heritage.)

The UK legal definition is not dispositive in regard to popular usage. Terms are defined in law to match the intent of the legislation, not how the terms are used in other contexts. In fact, when a term is defined in law, that’s often a sign that the legal definition does not accord exactly with or is more specific than the common one; otherwise there would have been no need to define it.

I agree that labeling anti-Canadian sentiment as racist seems odd, mainly because citizenship here, as in the US, is not associated with ethnicity. But racism is used within Canada to denote negative attitudes between Anglophones and Francophones (not to mention such attitudes toward the First Nations):

So the fact that English and anglos get bashed rather cruelly in some web sites is of no never mind, but when it crosses over to regular television or the mainstream press, it’s time to denounce these racist attacks in no uncertain terms.

These examples are all references to anti-Anglophone attitudes, but I’m sure anti-Francophone ones can be easily found as well. These were just the ones that came out on top of the Google search.

Out here almost all the people who fled Quebec see it as a racists Franco shit hole.

When I come across one of these hysterical Quebec Anglos with their shrill accusations of “racism” and “oppression”, I like to remind them...

On anti-anglo racism in Quebec

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Posted: 17 June 2014 12:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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‘the movie can’t be racist because all the people in it belong to the same racial group of white Northern Europeans’

I work with teenagers from very racially diverse backgrounds and this kind of statement is almost a byword. It is somewhat immature, perhaps, but it is a tenet. This is in Northern California. On the other hand, it is factually accurate if you go by the definition of race.

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Posted: 17 June 2014 04:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Iron Pyrite - 17 June 2014 12:07 AM

‘the movie can’t be racist because all the people in it belong to the same racial group of white Northern Europeans’

I work with teenagers from very racially diverse backgrounds and this kind of statement is almost a byword. It is somewhat immature, perhaps, but it is a tenet. This is in Northern California. On the other hand, it is factually accurate if you go by the definition of race.

This would appear to be begging the question somewhat, as the definition of race is a central but unresolved point in this discussion.

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Posted: 17 June 2014 06:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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It is somewhat immature, perhaps, but it is a tenet. [...] On the other hand, it is factually accurate

If it’s factually accurate, why is it immature to hold it as a tenet?

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Posted: 17 June 2014 10:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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It seems to me that defining “race” and defining “racism” as the latter term’s used today, are two entirely different propositions, which don’t have a lot to do with each other (consider “nation” and “nationalism"). Mixing them up is going to get us bogged down in a morass of irrelevancies. I suggest leaving “race” out of it and confining the discussion to “racism”.  I agree with those who maintain that discussion of “racism” involves (and should involve) a great deal more than merely genetic ethnicity, and that “I dislike Canadians” is an emphatically racist statement (and that anyone who says it, or anything like it, is a really, really stupid bigoted asshole, probably not worth knowing).

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Posted: 17 June 2014 01:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I agree with those who maintain that discussion of “racism” involves (and should involve) a great deal more than merely genetic ethnicity, and that “I dislike Canadians” is an emphatically racist statement (and that anyone who says it, or anything like it, is a really, really stupid bigoted asshole, probably not worth knowing).

If we’re discussing “racism” I don’t think the premise applies to the core of its definition, which involves race prejudice.

Dictionary.com

racist
rac·ist [rey-sist] Show IPA
noun
1.
a person who believes in racism, the doctrine that a certain human race is superior to any or all others.
adjective
2.
of or like racists or racism: racist policies; racist attitudes.
Origin:
race2 (n.) + -ist


World English Dictionary
racism or racialism (ˈreɪsɪzəm, ˈreɪʃəˌlɪzəm)

— n1.  the belief that races have distinctive cultural characteristics determined by hereditary factors and that this endows some races with an intrinsic superiority over others
2.  abusive or aggressive behaviour towards members of another race on the basis of such a belief

“I dislike Canadians” as a blanket statement can not be construed as racist; xenophobic and bigoted, perhaps, but not “racist” as the word is defined.

If someone declares, “I dislike fat people” can that also be racist?  Do we also categorize all xenophobes as racists? If so then we are painting a very broad brush for the word, even though it seems we already have.

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Posted: 17 June 2014 01:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Diegogarcity alert.

Not an hour ago, I was speaking to my dissertation advisor, who is English but has spent the last fourteen years in Ontario, and he used racist to refer to a bias against Canadians, in this particular case a decision by a mostly American committee of scholars who did not give an award to a book because it was by a Canadian and about Canadian literature.

I probably wouldn’t have noticed the usage if this thread had not been active.

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Posted: 17 June 2014 05:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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O P Tipping:

This would appear to be begging the question somewhat, as the definition of race is a central but unresolved point in this discussion.

I see it as being a question of which existing definition of race is legitimately tied to the term racist. The most salient forms of racism in the US, historically, would seem to be White on Black and White on Native American. These are two major world “races,” I suppose, as distinct from Caucasian. I’m frankly not sure what the modern terms are and judging by the Wikipedia article on Race (human classification), you’d be hard pressed getting anyone to define what used to be thought of as the three great races. (Caucasian, Negroid, and Asian, I suppose.)

In my mind, racism has to do with how you define your group, so if a racist is Caucasian then whoever is defined as non-Caucasian would be the target of racist sentiments. I understand that in the past it was fairly common to refer to the American race of people, etc. I just never would have applied the concept of racism to the concept of nationalism. Race is a very broad term. How racism has been done has been a lot simpler.

General Patton supposedly said this about the Russians:

The Russians are Mongols. They are Slavs and a lot of them used to be ruled by ancient Byzantium. From Genghis Kahn to Stalin, they have not changed. They never will and we will never learn, at least , not until it is too late.

We have destroyed what could have been a good race of people and we are about to replace them with Mongolian savages and all of Europe with communism

His thesis, if you will, was that Russians were not Caucasians, and therefore they were fundamentally different.

[ Edited: 17 June 2014 06:10 PM by Iron Pyrite ]
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Posted: 17 June 2014 06:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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languagehat - 17 June 2014 06:45 AM

It is somewhat immature, perhaps, but it is a tenet. [...] On the other hand, it is factually accurate

If it’s factually accurate, why is it immature to hold it as a tenet?

It seems immature for a few reasons. One is that teenagers, and especially troubled teens, are looking for unambiguous answers that don’t need to be re-thought. They need that stability and security. They have a low tolerance for nuance and shades of gray, so it is a sign of maturity when they can see more than one side of an issue. What they see is that it’s OK to criticize one’s own family members but not OK for an outsider. So there’s something monolithic, and therefore a little immature, in this world view that all Whites are one way, all Blacks are another, if a White says something negative about a Black it’s racist, if a Black says something bad about a Black it’s not. And so on and so on. I’m also getting a little fatigued with hearing the N-word about a thousand times a day, but that’s a different story.

I guess I was giving them the benefit of the doubt by using the word tenet. Also, I think it’s pretty clear that for most people in the US the “race” in racism refers to Black, White, Yellow, and Brown, so to speak. Maybe it’s changing.

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Posted: 18 June 2014 02:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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The Russians are Mongols. They are Slavs and a lot of them used to be ruled by ancient Byzantium. From Genghis Kahn to Stalin, they have not changed. They never will and we will never learn, at least , not until it is too late.

We have destroyed what could have been a good race of people and we are about to replace them with Mongolian savages and all of Europe with communism

I understand that historians consider General Patton to have been a capable general.  The above remarks offer further proof (if further proof were needed) that generals should stick to being generals.  George Marshall was one in a million: most of them make utter asses of themselves outside of their chosen métier.

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Posted: 18 June 2014 04:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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The UK legal definition is not dispositive in regard to popular usage.

I didn’t mean to suggest that it was. I only cited it because I checked my own understanding of the word, and the way I hear other British people using the word, against it, and by and large they match.

On the other hand, it is factually accurate if you go by the definition of race.

But race has historically had and still does sometimes have the perfectly legitimate senses ‘ethnic group’ and‘ nationality’, so holding that belief is not merely a blatant example of the etymological fallacy: even if the etymological fallacy weren’t a fallacy but a fact, their claim would still be inaccurate.

Someone else in that debate said that for the Scots to hate the English was not racism but xenophobia, and that it made no sense to use racism in the wider sense when xenophobia was available. I’m not sure this is quite true. Xenophobia, as I understand it, implies hatred/fear of what is strange, and allows the possibility that once a person or people gets to know these strange people with their odd ways and funny-smelling food their hostility may abate. Racism, however, can co-exist with any degree of familiarity.

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Posted: 18 June 2014 05:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I agree with those who maintain that discussion of “racism” involves (and should involve) a great deal more than merely genetic ethnicity, and that “I dislike Canadians” is an emphatically racist statement (and that anyone who says it, or anything like it, is a really, really stupid bigoted asshole, probably not worth knowing).

I think this makes it clear how the transition has happened (or is happening): “racist” has become the worst thing you can call somebody, so people apply it with a broad brush to anybody who’s a really, really stupid bigoted asshole, and the usual semantic watering down takes place.  Eventually we will need a new term for what was traditionally called a racist, and the dance will begin again.

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Posted: 18 June 2014 05:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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I would have thought that “racism” and “race” as we use these words in the US were an artifact of 19th century pseudo-science. But the origin of the word “race,” according to the OED, shows that it was first applied in the broadest possible way (including plants and animals). Racism on the other hand (mantling Lionello here) is more recent and seems to have a more narrow meaning. Given that the US understands slavery to be our original sin and racism a by-product of it, it is hard for anyone in the US to use the word in any other way. Racism as used to refer to Canadians, for example, seems a kind of affront to those who bear the burden of this disorder in this country. Not that it can’t be used in that way, just that our history seems to prevent it here.

[ Edited: 18 June 2014 06:35 AM by Oecolampadius ]
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Posted: 18 June 2014 07:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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LH writes:

“racist” has become the worst thing you can call somebody, so people apply it with a broad brush to anybody who’s a really, really stupid bigoted asshole, and the usual semantic watering down takes place.

I think this sums it up, although I would say that enough watering down has already taken place that I would change it to “anybody they want to put in the wrong”.

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