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But I Swear I’m Not!

July 24, 2010

Michael Moynihan has a good take on the she’s-a-racist-he’s-a-racist B.S. rampant in this past week’s political commentary:

Racism is the most powerful and toxic accusation in American discourse, one that derails careers and destroys futures. Yet despite its toxicity it is also the one that requires the least amount of evidence; the racism, we are told, is institutionalized or subterranean, so trust that it’s being divined in good faith. Well, that won’t do. Because there is no penalty for unfairly calling someone a racist, as David Frum points out—if it sticks, a point for your side; if it doesn’t, who cares?

All of this will soon be forgotten, thankfully, and the charming and efficient pundits of Washington, D.C. will go back to observing the “racist” Tea Party movement and that stupid conservatives aren’t stupid butneo-fascists.” And we’ll be back to business as usual.

I’d only add one other item to the list of reasons not to call people racists: it’s not falsifiable.  As I said the other day, there’s no way to prove you’re not a racist — it just depends on whether people think you are.  It’s like trying to discredit somebody for believing that alien life is more primitive than human life rather than more advanced (or saying that the stimulus is working and we just can’t see it or saying that the rate on 10-year treasuries is only really low because the market’s more worried about Europe right now).  It doesn’t fly because there’s no amount of evidence that an alleged racist can compile that will disprove your claim.  It doesn’t matter if one of Rush Limbaugh’s executive producers, the guy he calls Bo Snerdley, is black, or if one of his most popular guest-hosts, Walter E. Williams, is black.  You’re only as racist as people think you are.  That’s why that claim should never go flying around.  No matter: as long as it remains cheap and unfair, people will continue to use it, and I’ll continue to try and ignore it.

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