"Is it racist" is a meaningless question.

It’s like people assume that “racist” is a defined term, and all we have to do is decide, by careful examination, if something fits into that category or not.

But the real question is about the meaning of the word “racist”, which is never addressed. So it’s all just people talking past each other.

From Merriam-Webster: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/racist

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Is it racist if I show up at Megyn Kelly’s door on Halloween in blackface, singing “Mammy”?

There is an eager push by the left to conflate racist and racial. Those on the left love to identify the latter and paint it as the former, so that many incidents that are simply racial can be pointed to as evidence of racism.

Racism comes in different varieties. There are different ways of being racist.

I see that gives multiple definitions, at least one of which (“racial prejudice or discrimination”) is pretty open-ended.

“Racist” is in fact a clearly defined term - but the definition is based on intent, which can be difficult to determine, so you can get situations where you didn’t intend to be racist but accidentally did something that makes other people think you were deliberately intending to offend.

That doesn’t mean the term’s meaningless.

I’m just gonna drop “Against Murderism”, an essay on the difficulty in talking about the label “racist”, in here, specifically this quote:

I designed the discussion questions to be situations where Definition By Motive clearly didn’t apply, but one or both of the other definitions clearly did. I imagine some people stuck to their guns, went Definition By Motive all the way through, and said none of the people in the vignettes were racist. I imagine other people used one of the other two definitions, or a different definition of their own, and were able to navigate all of the objections and counterexamples down here in Part II successfully. But I think most people found a couple of inconsistencies, aren’t really sure what to do with them, and are just sort of echoing the Supreme Court’s view of pornography: “I’ll know it when I see it.”

This is natural. I’m not trying to say that Definition By Motives is the one “real” definition. All of our word usage is a mess; we hardly ever use anything simply or consistently, let alone a complicated word like “racism”. In reality we go back and forth among all of these, proving that something is racist using one definition, then applying the consequences of another definition, switching from very strict to very loose based on whether or not it’s something we like. All of this is totally normal.

But in this case it’s kind of likely to lead to disaster.

Defining “racism” is a really hard problem because it’s fuzzy and confusing and means a lot of different things. Personally, I think the rationalist step of replacing the symbol with the substance helps a lot here. Okay, so “racism” is fuzzy, and anyone who talks about racism ends up getting mindkilled. But if we’re talking about individual actions or beliefs rather than anything systemic (where our understanding just falls apart if we don’t have an overarching theory like systemic racism), we do well to reframe the question, to replace the symbol - “racist” - with the substance - “hates black people”/“is doing things in a way that unintentionally bias things against black people”/“has subconscious bias”/whatever else.

I’m inclined to agree.

Some examples to elaborate on my earlier comment that “racism comes in different varieties”:

Person A hates people of other races. He doesn’t think they’re inherently inferior, but he does think of them as “other,” and he is hostile and antagonistic toward them.

Person B loves people of other races, but considers them inferior to people of his own race. He feels benevolent toward them and desires to help them, kind of like how an animal lover might feel towards dogs.

Are both people racist? I’d say yes, but not in the same way.

Or how about this:

Person C treats black people very differently from white people.

Person D thinks of black people differently from white people. This is automatic and something she doesn’t choose, and, knowing this about herself, she makes a deliberate effort to treat black and white people the same despite her automatic thoughts and feelings.

I submit that if onebelieves race determines human traits and capacities, one is, in fact, racist.

There’s this belief on the right that racism is okay if you call it by a different name.

Right, see, this is why replacing the symbol with the substance is useful - you two are probably talking past each other.

I’ve never figured out what you mean by this. I still don’t know what “racial” means in this context.

Discussing specific examples would be useful. For example suppose a guy has the following feeling:

Is he a racist? Think about this.

Jesse Jackson


I see absolutely nothing that would lead you to that conclusion. It’s not as if magellan has not made this “racial” argument before. And, in practice, he is clearly talking about what liberals call racism and believe is wrong. He’s using a different term for it because he thinks the word racism is what makes it wrong, rather than actual underlying concept.

I see no indication that this is a situation of semantics, where we’d all agree if we just defined our terms. The right wing and left wing approach to racial issues is just fundamentally different. We actually disagree on what exactly is right and wrong when it comes to racial issues.

And, as I keep pointing out, one side seems to better encompass what minorities believe, given that most agree with the left wing side. The people who agree with the right wing side are those who haven’t experienced racism. As such, we have every reason to think the idea on the left is closer to the truth.

The underlying issue is that both sides don’t agree on what is right and what is wrong. Each puts what they consider wrong under the term racism. The different definitions are an effect, not a cause. And, as the left makes headway, the right tends to accept more and more racial things as wrong and racist. It’s akin to prescriptivists and descriptivists, where the former, no matter how much they fight, must ultimately accept the latter.

I’m not saying I never see people clearly talking past each other who would agree if they defined their terms. But I do not agree that this is a common problem in the debate.

Because, well, for one reason, said debates usually involve both sides stating their definitions. But the actual problem boils down to what they consider to be wrong, not the debate on what the word means. The definition follows from what either side thinks is wrong.

Hence the use of “racial,” which is magellan saying, “This thing you label racism is not actually wrong.”

It is indeed racist. The underlying assumption is that black people would be robbers but white people would not be. The only reason this would not be racist is if there was an actual situation where there were some black robbers around but no known white robbers. Otherwise it is based on the racist idea that black people are more likely to be criminals.

The fact that a black person, let along a prominent one, said it does not change anything. It’s not a gotcha.

Now, it is possible that the context is one where he acknowledges this is a racist feeling he has and he needs to fight against it. Good. We all have natural reactions that we know are wrong but that we try to change. It’s what it means to be human.

It’s when these racist things are presented as being correct or acceptable that we have a problem. That is when we begin to cross from people who have done something racist and people who actually are racist. Argue that enough racist things are okay, and we tend to decide the person is racist.

And, even then, there is racism from ignorance. There are people who are racist because they just don’t know better. That’s the entire point of trying to teach. It’s just that, when they’ve been told this stuff basically since birth and they still reject it, we tend to assume it’s not ignorance, but malevolence.

Or it can just be something that is so blatantly racist that we can’t imagine anyone saying it who isn’t intentionally racist. See neo-Nazis or the KKK.

Identity politics? Intersectionalism?

Okay, let me add a big fat fucking caveat then: assuming both parties are arguing in good faith, dot dot dot. The method of replacing the symbol with the substance is still really good (discounting systemic problems, because with systemic problems the symbol is very helpful for showing the systemic nature of it) for determining if one of them is arguing in bad faith.

Hey Scylla, you never got back to me on how identity politics is only important to you because your identity counts in our society as the default, and nobody is coming for your rights. Why is that? Judging by this post, it’s because you really don’t understand identity politics (or intersectionalism), but I’m open to alternate explanations.


Ultra runners?

Burn Victims?

Guys who have built clocks?

Which of my identities is default?


This is silly, and not just because you call yourself a rationalist (drop and give me Bayes Theorem! :stuck_out_tongue: ). You seem to have no concept of what we’re even talking about; it’s like having a discussion about privilege and someone barges in and says, “I had the immense privilege to jam with half the members of Phish” - okay, damn cool factoid, but that’s not even tangentially related to what we’re actually talking about.

When we talk about the “default” when talking about identities, we are necessarily talking about it in the context of a specific niche. The default identity when it comes to any given category one would talk about in identity politics. To run down the basics:

[li]The default skin color is white[/li][li]The default gender identity is cisgendered[/li][li]The default sexuality is heterosexual[/li][li]The default ability level is “not handicapped”[/li][/ul]

…And so on, and so forth. The “default” here refers to how, in society, when people consider the “everyman”, they’re thinking of, well, you. The everyman is not my friend Jacquii, a queer trans black woman. It’s not my friend Shu Ning, a nonbinary asian person. It is, however, pretty close to you. If I were to swallow my occasional desire to suck a dude off, I’d basically be the everyman, the default template of modern western society.

(Basically, think “Nathan Drake” and you’re 99% of the way there. And if you were ever wondering why so many characters in film, comics, video games, TV, etc. are cishet white men, now you know.)

But here’s the thing - if you’re the “default”, society doesn’t take your existence as a threat or a challenge. You’re just… the way things are. What’s “weird” or “strange” is people deviating from that norm. Those are the people society tends to marginalize, socially or legally. And those are the people for whom identity politics is really important. Because, at the end of the day, they are being persecuted because of part of their identity. And when they band together under the banner of their identity, they can end that persecution much more effectively than they can as isolated individuals.

Let’s make it really, really, really fucking simple.

Imagine that you are a gay man in Texas before Obergfell. Do you feel that your identity as a gay man should have any relevance on your politics? How about as a gay man in Texas before Lawrence? How 'bout as a black man in Georgia before the Civil Rights Act. Imagine one party is saying, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” and the other is saying, “Equal rights now” - do you think that would impact your vote at all? Do you think that, as you put it in another thread, it’s the “least interesting thing” about you when it comes to how you’ll vote? I’ve never been in that position, but I can’t imagine it would be anything short of the single most important issue I could possibly vote on - assuming I could, in fact, vote.

That is why identity politics matters. You may personally think that your sexuality is the least interesting thing about you. But what if the laws of the country you live in considered them so important that they carved out laws explicitly to persecute you? Would it feel more important then? I promise you - the societal “default” never has to deal with that shit. They never have to think about what life would be like if they were persecuted. They never have to even check their privilege, as much as we all wish they would.

This is the essence of identity politics. If it doesn’t matter for you, consider yourself incredibly lucky. Because that means that you, like me, basically got a royal flush of privileges. You’re white (don’t have to worry about systemic racism), male (don’t have to worry about systemic misogyny or people forcing you to carry your rapist’s child to term), cisgendered (don’t have to worry about the government literally defining you out of existence), and heterosexual (don’t have to worry about gay-bashing or people revoking your rights). But for people who don’t, as John Scalzi put it, “Start life on the lowest difficulty setting”, these issues are:

A) Existential
B) Deeply political

That’s why identity politics exists.