The word “racism” doesn’t mean whatever the right says it means.
The winger right has been losing the argument on race for quite some time now, culminating in 2008′s election of Barack Obama as President of the United States. It’s driving them insane, too. ABL talked about the idiotic Derrick Bell “hug-troversy” yesterday, and the right is gleefully pointing to young Harvard Law Review president Barack Obama speaking about diversity and Harvard faculty as proof he’s a “racist”.
This is because the right loves to reframe the definition of anything bad as “something that applies primarily to liberals.” It goes something like this: “We’re tired of being called racist by you people, so we’re going to define racism as ‘including race in the consideration of anything’ and therefore that means all liberals are racists. We win. What are you going to do about it? You can’t deny that liberals are aware of race in differing points of view and take them into consideration through diversity and inclusiveness. That means you’re defining people by race, and that makes you racists, Q.E.D. Oh, and we’re done talking to you about this, because we don’t talk to racists.”
Pretty amazing stuff, and yet this perfectly encapsulates the conservative viewpoint on race, where Arizona Republicans have banned Latino Studies classes in school as “indoctrination” and the Supreme Court has to take another look at race in college admissions because consideration of race is in and of itself “racist”. Mention, consideration, attention to race is the new definition of what it means to be racist, and that means liberalism itself is the source of “the real racism in America.”
As ridiculous as it is, it serves a very real purpose: the wingers use this argument to defuse and dismiss any real criticism of racism. “You can’t accuse us of racism in any way when you support diversity and affirmative action!” they bellow. Such breathtaking false equivalence, literally equating the awareness that race affects social and political fabric of the nation with actual, overt racism, is the key to how the rabid right “wins” arguments.
It applies to not only race, but virtually all aspects of liberalism’s inclusiveness of viewpoints by definition: gender, socioeconomics and class, religion (or the absence of it), sexual orientation, you name it. And all of it becomes ammunition to use against liberalism itself. Once you accept the first false equivalence that considering sexual orientation is discriminatory against heterosexuals, or that discussing race is in an of itself racist against whites, every other argument you can make to defend that is a loser.
That’s what makes the media’s acceptance of these “well both sides do it!” frames so absolutely poisonous. If you accept the possibility that Derrick Bell’s call for faculty diversity makes him a racist, there’s nothing you can say that can then “prove the negative” that he’s not one. From there, you can’t “prove the negative” that Barack Obama’s association and introduction of Bell possibly racist views in 1990 didn’t adversely affect the formative views on race for the now President Obama. These folks are literally arguing that because you cannot prove that the President isn’t a racist when he’s talking about race, it’s as bad as him being a racist.
It’s sophistry on a grand, transformational scale, and yet once again this same level of lunacy is driving our national discourse. It applies to the ongoing Rush Limbaugh misogyny as well: Bill Maher said bad things about women at one point, making him just as bad as Rush and proving that feminists all hate men because they cannot prove liberals’ consideration of gender issues isn’t in turn misandry. Everything then becomes a situation where liberals are “forcing” their views upon conservatives, thus robbing them of their freedoms, bringing us to the recent contraception “controversy” where having employers agree to birth control coverage is in fact an abridgement of their religious liberties, proving liberals are the religious bigots.
It applies to secular arguments as well, take science, evolution, and global climate change. The false equivalence here is that liberals cannot prove 100% that these theories are absolute fact, so that refusal to accept the “equally valid” theories of creationism and sunspots being responsible is proof that liberals are the closed-minded ones who reject science and the scientific method, never mind that this awesome argument means I can have a theory that the Earth was created by Doozers leaving underneath Fraggle Rock and that rejection of it by Dr. Stephen Hawking means he’s not a real scientist.
Everything is related here, folks. It all ties together, forming a multi-pronged attack on liberalism itself, the rejection of valid new ideas because they challenge the old, the holding of ridiculous fallacies as proof of victory and that in the end, all conservative ideas are correct because classic liberalism, the creation of new ideas itself, is an inherently evil act precisely because you can’t prevent those new ideas from possibly being evil.
It’s Dick Cheney’s One Percent Solution taken to the application of pretty much everything. It might be wrong, so it must be wrong. And it must be destroyed. The faster we recognize these false equivalencies for what they are, the more we can point them out to others and say “This argument is terrible and here’s why, and they’re using this argument because they don’t have anything else.” It’s something that we have to keep fighting until we win.
If we don’t, then we’ll be the “racists, bigots, and haters” forever and it will always be unacceptable to call it out, which is precisely what they want the situation to be.