A few weeks ago, I met up with H, the tutor for my culture module who is currently pursuing her PhD, and one of the topics we talked about was everyday racism. I raised the idea that the term “racism” is too loosely thrown about these days, if we were to stick by the academic definition of “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior”, so based on this arguably one can only conclusively say that examples like the Holocaust, Apartheid and racial segregation in America are “true” examples of racism, because there is both intent and discrimination (in the form of violence). She countered with a very interesting point that the definition itself must be examined in terms of the authors and context that it was written in, and it suddenly hit me that perhaps I need to reconsider sticking to this definition, and perhaps adapt it to make it more relevant to the plights of those who suffer from racial discrimination today.
But the main focus of this post is not about a conceptual debate of racism, but rather the painful (at least to me) situation in America, specifically regarding the word “nigger”. People avoid the word like the plague, and sponsors drop celebrities who were caught using the word at the drop of a hat. While it would be interesting to debate about usage of the word – proponents like George Carlin who see nothing with it “it’s the context that makes the word good or bad; there is nothing wrong with the word nigger in and of itself, it’s the racist asshole who’s using the word that you ought to be concerned about” versus opponents who claim that continued usage reinforces the power relations and trivializes the emotional burden of the word – it seems far more important to point out the horrendous hypocrisy that is happening in America (nice alliteration) in the form of actual racist practices like voter ID laws, redlining, disproportionate violence against the black community amidst this sacred ban on a word. To make it clearer, what I mean to say is that it seems that the reality in America is that systemic oppression of the black community is fine, as long as you don’t say the word “nigger”. It is slightly amusing from a philosophical point of view, but then the suffering reminds you of how painful it is.