The R word and online credibility

The word “racist”, as one might expect, is a loaded word, with much baggage, most of it negative.
The baggage is negative because in most parts of the world, racism is regarded as a bad thing. And you don’t need to look far into the history of the world, and particularly the history of empires, to understand why. In the Bad Old Days of Empire, there were the explorers/conquerors/exploiters (People Like Us Over Here) and the subjects (those People Over There). One of the easiest ways in which one differentiates is by skin color and facial features. This set us on the long road to centuries of exploitation of people in distant lands who, in many cases, looked different to us. This is not some esoteric debate. It’s a stone cold fact.
That being the case, racism is a contentious subject, particularly right now in the USA, which elected a President whose actions when dealing with people of different ethnic origins are at best problematical. He also has a track record of uttering incendiary comments about countries and their citizens. This is also not a subject of debate.
John Scalzi, in his blunt way, just pointed out what should be blindingly obvious to most of us.
However, the incendiary nature of the R word leads to it becoming very difficult to openly and honestly discuss concepts, facts, trends and events involving it. It is almost a taboo word, like “sex” was to my parents’ generation.
Many years ago, I had some political conversations with a guy I was working with in the UK. It soon became clear that his worldview was pretty heavily biased towards white supremacy. Like Donald Trump, he thought that Africa was a shithole. Unlike Trump however, he had actually visited Africa, and could name countries and cities.
However, what I respected about him, although it was soon clear to both of us that we had somewhat different worldviews, was that he was prepared to calmly and rationally discuss and debate. He didn’t engage in deflection, shut-downs, ad hominems or all of the other common fallacious and rhetorically dishonest tactics that many people do to either skew conversations their way or to position themselves to flounce off in a huff if they can’t. you know, Win.
On one occasion, sensing the way that one particular conversation was going, he said to me “look, I know you think I’m racist. And to be honest, yes, I am”.
Which on one level was kind of scary, but on another level it was good. Good because instead of playing rhetorical whack-a-mole over the R word, it was now out in the open, and we both knew where we stood.
A lot of conversations about enthnicity and race go nowhere except to a bad place, partly because racists, who are uncomfortably aware of the loaded nature of the word “racist” (as in, This Makes Me Look Bad), behave like rhetorical shitweasels when the subject comes up, dodging and ducking like the best boxers.
There are also people who use the R word as a conversational shut-down tactic; this is equally problematical.
I would have a lot more respect for some of the people on social media if, after posting and supporting racist comments, actions or sentiments, they would stop attempting to desperately pretend that they are not some combination of (a) nativist, (b) an enabler for racism, or (c) racist. Trying to pretend otherwise makes them look like zero-credibility shitweasels. They come across as unserious.


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