A Philosopher's Blog

Quick Rambling on Racism

Posted in Race by Michael LaBossiere on July 30, 2009

Thanks to paper grading, I don’t have the time to do a proper essay. So, I’ll do a quick ramble.  Yesterday I was talking to a friend about the latest addition to the Gates incident-the cop’s racial slur.

My friend made an interesting point. He noted that when people want to insult someone, they tend to go for obvious, visble qualities. Race is, obviously enough, one of those qualities. He also made the point that a person who makes a racist remark would seem to be (with some notable exceptions) acting the same way that people do when they launch an attack based on appearance.

For example, like most blonds I have had to deal with stupid blond jokes (trust me, having a PhD does not grant immunity). When I was a kid, I was skinny and people would attack me by comparing me to a beanpole. While these do not compare to vile expressions of hate, these examples do support my friend’s claim: people are often full of dislikes and they express these most often by going after some obvious physical feature.

In the case of race, people have all sorts of established stereotypes to use in their attacks. So, if they dislike a person, they might simply use a racial slur. It is easy and will get a response.  But, does this make the person a racist? That is, of course a good question. When someone makes a stupid blond joke to try to annoy me, are they a hairist? Or are they just expressing their jerkness using a tool they hope will work? Or perhaps they don’t even reflect on it-they simply put words on their dislike and spew them out.

My friend also made another good point. While he does not condone racial slurs, he thinks that people should have freedom of thought and expression. He noted that saying mean things about someone should not be labeled as racism, they should be seen as being mean and perhaps as an ass. As for racism, he thought that the term should be used for more than just saying mean stuff. It should apply to things such as discrimation, genocide, and so forth.

So, what should we call folks who throw around racial slurs? “Asshole”, perhaps?


6 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on July 30, 2009 at 1:37 pm


  2. biomass2 said, on July 30, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    “(trust me, having a PhD does not grant immunity).”

    Bet if you taught in one of those elite Eastern universities it would. Or at least so I hear from some posters here. 🙂

    ‘But, does this make the person a racist?’

    If it’s a “vile expression of hate”, I suppose so.

    “It [the term “racism”] should apply to things such as discrimination, genocide, and so forth.”

    Does race-based bullying come under the umbrella of your friend’s sense of what qualifies as “freedom of thought and expression”? Or does that reside in the “yelling ‘Fire’ in a crowded theater” category? Does repeated verbal bullying qualify as racism, or must a physical action escalate to hanging the object of hatred from a tree and/or dragging his body behind a truck before the action is deemed objectionable?

    “Asshole” I can think of many more appropriate terms, but you might ban me from this site forever, if I used them.
    To me, “asshole” is a kind of mellow/humorous word. Reminds me of a cartoon I saw once. A proctologist has just awakened, sweating and shaking, from a nightmare. His wife, sitting beside him in bed, says soothingly, “Don’t worry, dear. There will always be enough assholes.”

    That’s kind of reassuring if you’re running a blog, isn’t it? But from the points of view of those most commonly discriminated against. . .

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 31, 2009 at 7:04 am

      Bullying, in the usual sense of the term, would not be a freedom that people should have. Bullying involves a clear and idenitifiable threat and the possibility of harm. Of course, what counts as bullying can be a bit fuzzy.

      The point my friend raised, which I found interesting, is that the pyschology of some of what we call racism seems to be very similar to other forms of dislike and hate. Racism does, unlike some other dislikes/hates/prejudices come with considerable history and has a (sadly) well developed system of terms, images and such that can be used as tools to express such hate. Hower, the fundamentals seems to be the same as other hates and dislikes.

      You are raising a basic question about the boundaries of behavior and expression. Tough question to answer. Clearly, people should not be allowed to drag other people to their deaths. People should not, morally, say hateful things to each other. But the question is what should be considered at a level of hate that actually requires some action to be taken. Do racial slurs belong to a special category that automatically makes them at that level of hate that requires action?

  3. magus71 said, on July 31, 2009 at 9:13 am

    Maybe people should get over it.

    • biomass2 said, on July 31, 2009 at 7:22 pm

      “get over it”

      Should a race be expected to quickly “get over” a history that in this country stretches back over 200 years? A history that as recently as 60 years ago included bombings and lynchings. That still, in the 21st century, has seen one or more black men being dragged to death in Texas because of their skin color.

      Why wouldn’t a black man who wakes up everyday in a skin he can’t change and knowing there are still those among us capable of such evil internalize that background?

      Get over it?

  4. biomass2 said, on July 31, 2009 at 7:30 pm

    “Do racial slurs belong to a special category that automatically makes them at that level of hate that requires action?”

    Automatically? Of course not. The isolated racial slur is practically “de rigueur” among a certain portion of the population in the area where I live. To follow up on each case with special action would be folly.

    But if such slurs are repeated over and over and over. . .if they reach a level of abuse that verbally batters the victim. . .if they are intended to culminate in violence on the part of the abuser or the victim. . . then I think it would be fair to call the slurs “racist” and it would be fair to expect action.

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