Samantha has a great post on the disingenuous use of the word "racist." I won't try to re-state her case, but I'll build on it a little bit. Racism is sort of like a mild cuss word in the sense that it gets too much use to be of any real meaning. There was once a time when hearing the word "bitch" on televison was shocking. Heads snapped to attention and jaws dropped in amazement. Nowadays, while some people may find it offensive, it's not exactly a surprise. We hear it so much that it's become almost passe. Same principle applies to racism. We're quick to draw the word racism or racist, but what does that really mean? I've said before that to some people, any time someone of a different race is uncourteous or shows some sign of dislike, the problem is automatically race. And I've also already said that everybody has the right to dislike anybody else for any reason. So then how can I tell the difference between somebody disliking me as an individual vs. somebody disliking me for phenotypical reasons? Honestly, I can't. Unless they just jump out of the cake and do something totally outrageous, then there's no way for me to tell. What's more, I don't want to know. If they don't know me, then the problem is theirs, not mine. I used to be the trainer at directory assistance. One of the main things I used to tell new operators is that people are extremely brave over the phone. They'll call you everything but a child of God, including any permutation of the N-word they can think of. On one level, using that epithet on a person is racist. But if that's all the person does, is the term "racist" really valid? Like Ice Cube, I used to "spell 'girl' with a 'B'," but I treated every female I knew with respect and I never called them that personally. So did my vocabulary override my action and make me misogynistic, or was there simply some tension there? (I stopped saying that when I accidentally let it fly on a friend-girl of mine. She didn't say anything because she knew I was only kidding, but the hurt look on her face washed that word out of my mouth with the quickness.) I mean, really, if somebody saying "nigger" is our biggest problem, then we've got it pretty good. Of course we know that we've got bigger fish to fry than some ignorant person's provocative vocabulary. I wouldn't care if the word nigger was expunged from history and could no longer be read/heard/spoken again, as long as cops are body-splashing Black dudes who appear to be in the act of surrendering, there's a problem. And let me say up front that 1) I don't live in Los Angeles, and 2) I don't have a television, so I really don't know what went on out there yesterday. I've seen some news reports, but somehow I'm thinkin' that a written description just doesn't convey the action. At any rate, since I really don't know what went on, I can't say that the police are wrong. What I can do is co-sign on the argument John McWhorter made in Authentically Black, which is that as long as police brutality in its current form exists, people will still believe that racism is as strong as it ever was. Bill Cosby's poundcake remark notwithstanding, we all should be concerned when we see an unarmed Black man get shot. We should remain cool enough to let a proper investigation take place, but we should definitely take an interest in the situation. What I really want to know is whether there are any unarmed white suspects who are being shot by police. It's perfectly reasonable to me that it may happen but not get much press. I doubt it, but that might be the case. I just want to know. If it's just us getting shot and beaten, then I don't suppose I need to say what that means for justice, even in 2004. I suppose there's an argument to be made that it's the fault of the criminal, even in the case of mistaken identity, as it was with Amadou Diallo (41 shots is a mistake, though? 41? Count to forty-one. That many is a mistake? Two is a mistake. Fifteen is a mistake from multiple shooters. Forty-one? Come on, now.), but I can't let it walk that easily. Richard Pryor was talking about this back in 197x, NWA rapped about it in 1989, and it's still going on today? Somebody has to step up. (On a side note, the somebody stepping up needs to be us. In Black Conservative, I wrote that the way for us to really get our position out there and heard is for us to be out there when something goes down. It's one thing for us to critique the civil rights industry and all that, but when it goes down, where are we? If we're to be taken seriously when we argue that racism is on the decline, then we should be the first ones pointing it out when it appears.) Okay, so racism is not dead. We can still see vestiges of it in personal interaction, as well as in its systematic forms. Jeremy does a good job of breaking these down in his post on the Presbyterian Church's pastoral letter regarding this very topic. However, the word itself is so overused that just about anything can be called racist. I remember a couple months ago, I read where somebody called The Boondocks racist. Racist? Leftist, yes. Angry? Maybe. Black Nationalistic? Right on! Racist? That's a stretch. (And funny. Don't forget to call it funny. "Can't lead OJ to a white woman" is the funniest punch line I've ever seen in a comic. Ever.") Just because somebody says something about "your" people, that doesn't make it racist. Larry Bird's comments a couple weeks ago (man, that chick really had me messed up. All this good conversation and I couldn't even write.) weren't racist. Personally, I don't even think they're inaccurate, but that's another post for another time. The fact is, race exists in this country and it' a factor in people's perceptions. I remember one time in a psychology class the teacher said something about a Black football player saying something about Black players having a harder time keeping their socks all the way up because they tend to have skinnier legs than their white counterpart. (Having skinny legs myself, I know about this first-hand.) He then pointed out the fact that there is no real room for discussion of observations like these; if Terry Bradshaw had been the one saying it and not Lynn Swann (Lynn Swann didn't really say it, I was just looking for a reason to throw this link.) people would have been beside themselves crying racist. Personally, I think there should be a moratorium on the use of the word. Everything's racist. By some definitions, I was being racist when I quoted Redd Foxx talking about, "The only way you'll see me with a white woman is if I'm holding her for the police." To some people, that's simply a matter of preference. If it's preference for me, it can't be racist for a white dude to say the inverse. I think I will return to this soon.