It's a given, that for white people, being called a racist is one of the worst things that can happen to them in today's society. I once wrote about this phenomenon, and recently, a Tea Bagger, I mean Tea Party member, agreed with me.
We don't want the worst elements to take this over," said Brendan Steinhauser, campaign director for FreedomWorks, a national group that helps coordinate tea party activists. "If they do, the tea party loses independents, it loses moderates, it loses people who don't tolerate this. Being a racist is one of the worst things you can be in this society. No one wants to be labeled this."
I think we can all agree that white folks dread the R-word like Latinos dread traffic stops in Arizona. They consider it the nuclear option.
The thing is, white people's fear of being labeled a racist often makes them less likely to call other white people's actions racist. My theory is that many white folks have narrowed the definition of racism because it makes it less likely that they will ever have to think of themselves, their friends or their family members as racist.
This is a byproduct of a national campaign to make certain types of racism seem horrible. We've all seen the videos from the Civil Rights movement, and watched Roots, and it's quite difficult to find a white person today who will say that what happened during Jim Crow and slavery was acceptable.... Well, outside of Virginia. They typically understand that joining the Klan and calling somebody a nigger makes you a bad person.
That stigma, while limited, has helped end some of the most egregious affronts to black Americans. It's no longer considered polite to behave a certain way in public, although private events are a different story. White folks' shame has led them to avoid certain behaviors, which has made life easier for black folks.
So, the question I'm currently considering is: "Was it the right move?"
Was the shame-based approach to lessening racism the right decision?
On one hand, you have the obvious benefits of the stigma attached to being labeled a "racist." People avoid those behaviors because they don't want to feel the shame and ostracization.
Unfortunately, the behaviors associated with racism by white folks in no way encompass the totality of the problem. Plus, white folks now have a vested interest in refusing to expand their definitions of racism because that way THEY can avoid being classified as racists.
What to do, what to do...
Honestly, I don't have a solution. I'm just thinking about it. Do the benefits of the stigma outweigh the side effects of a shame-based approach to combating racism?
Have black folks gained more from the shame than they lose from the fact that white folks will do anything to avoid feeling that shame, including limiting the definition of racism so much that the most problems for black folks are ignored.
What do y'all think?