Defining Racism

Ann Althouse says

If by “racist” you mean somebody who would use other people’s feelings about race in a purely instrumental way to amass political power, then Harry Reid is a racist.

Eugene Volokh responds

My question: Does the term “racist” indeed normally mean “somebody who would use other people’s feelings about race in a purely instrumental way to amass political power”? I don’t think I’ve ever heard it used this way; and while I certainly recognize that words can have multiple standard meanings, I’m skeptical that the second meaning Prof. Althouse suggests is indeed standard.

He’s wrong.

Consider a Southern politician who routinely played on the racist feelings of his constituents in order to win re-election.  Using “code words” and “dog whistles” in his ads to get racists to come out and vote for him.  We most certainly do consider such a person a racist, regardless of how he feels about blacks.  And if that’s not “somebody who would use other people’s feelings about race in a purely instrumental way to amass political power”, then words have no meaning.

If you want to argue that the description doesn’t apply to Harry Reid, go right ahead.  But you can’t honestly claim that it’s an invalid use of the word “racist”.

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2 Responses to “Defining Racism”

  1. jonolan Says:

    Yes, I can and will argue that. Althouse’s definition is utterly invalid irrespective of who or what it is applied to – even filth like Reid.

    The use of a mass sentiment for gain does not equate to having that sentiment one’s self. It is a completely separate form of foolishness from actual racism.

    Example: I could set up a children’s charity and use people’s sentimentality about children to amass power and wealth without actually caring on bit about those children. That wouldn’t, in fact, make me a philanthropist anymore than using people’s racism makes someone a racist.

  2. Fritz Beaulieu Says:

    Nice!, found your blog on digg.Happy I finally tried it out. Not sure if its my Chrome browser,but sometimes when I visit your site, the fonts are really tiny? Anyway, love your blog and will check back.See Ya

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