A Study in Simple Semantics: Meaning of “Racist” and “Racism”
By Carolyn Yeager
LIKE ANTI-SEMITE (OR ANTISEMITE), THE WORD RACIST IS increasing in politically-charged usage. This bodes ill for maintaining our shrinking “European-white majority societies” that are now sprinkled lightly around the world. The following are some thoughts I had concerning what to understand and how to engage when you are so labeled.
Is there a difference between Racialism and Racism? – both are “beliefs” according to Wikipedia.
Racialism is the belief that the human species is naturally divided into races, that are ostensibly distinct biological categories.
Racism is the belief in the superiority of one race over another.
There is no explanation for why the distinction between the two words. Most dictionaries define the two terms as synonymous.
Merriam Webster defines racism as a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities. Thus a racist would be a person who believes that race is the primary determinant of human traits. [In other words, innocent of superior-inferior connotations.]
However, a third meaning states that racism is “racial prejudice or discrimination.” Third meanings often convey the slang or popular current usage, irregardless of the historic, more traditional meaning. Some online dictionaries use that third meaning for their first meaning, which is why I chose to use M-W.
Merriam Webster writes that racism is a word of recent origin, not used before the 20th century. They go on to say that “Dictionaries are often treated as the final arbiter in arguments over a word’s meaning, but they are not always well suited for settling disputes.” This is because they explain how words are (or have been) actually used, not how some may feel that they should be used.
In 1903, W. E. B. Du Bois, a black civil rights activist and Pan-Africanist, said that racialism is the philosophical position that races existed, and that collective differences existed among races This is no doubt where the distinction between racialism and racism at Wikipedia came from. British-Ghanaian philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah summarized Du Bois’s philosophical stance by writing that racialism is a value-neutral term and racism is a value-charged term.
Meaning of -ist
Let’s now look at the meaning of the suffix -ist. It denotes a person who practices or is concerned with something, or holds certain principles, doctrines, etc. Examples: apologist; dramatist; machinist; novelist; realist; socialist. Notice in all these cases, the person is a believer in, or a maker or user of that represented by the root word. A writer of dramas or novels; a maker of machines or apologies; a believer in realism or socialism. Thus a racist would be a believer in race or in race differences. That’s all one can make out of it from the word itself.
Answers.com says that ist stands for “one who does.” This brings up the question of whether racist can be a proper word at all. Is it a naturally occurring word or an invented, created-for-a-purpose word? The ist in the words biologist or chemist wouldn’t be considered as a suffix. If we take away ist from biologist, it would be biolog. That’s not a word. Same with chemist. Technically, ist means what a person is. For example, if I were a biologist, I would study or practice biology. Similarly, rac is not a word. Adding ist (racist) means a person who studies race – or a person who practices race science or just believes in race. I believe in race and race-based differences, so I’m willing to be called a racist based on that definition.
Coined by the left
It does seem that racist is a coined word for the 21st century. Previously there was no purpose for the word so it didn’t exist, even though feelings about race differences were greater and more pronounced in the past than now. But they were also accepted as natural and socially acceptable. Now it’s politically purposeful to blame and shame with what may yet become the “word of the century.”
Here’s a recent example of it’s use in the current environment. Democrat presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is a homosexual trying to win over more black voters, who generally disapprove of homosexuality. Thus he is calling President Trump a ‘racist’ who is ‘dividing America,’ without any real evidence or defining the term. Most of the other Democrat candidates are doing the same.
But I don’t think we have to accept it. We can remind our accusers of the true meaning of the word, it’s actual content, whenever it’s used against us. We can tell them they have to be more specific about what we have actually done or said, before they resort to labeling us in such a generalized way with a word of such questionable meaning. Every “crime” needs to be proved.
It’s also important that we assert our authority over our language because it’s what we use to communicate ideas. It’s not a matter of going around proclaiming ourselves as racists, but defining the word properly when it’s used against us. We can also reject the popular notion that race difference is only skin color, or that if we acknowledge differences we are making value judgments. Differences found among racial groups can be observed by everyone and are backed by scientific studies that follow accepted protocols.
Race is a reality; racial differences are a part of that reality. We have every right, even duty, to acknowledge the real world. We deny that right to ourselves if we accept meanings for words in our common language that distort our common reality. It’s shameful that our politicians do this! It’s called Political Correctness, a tool used to take away your and my freedom, to emotionally enslave us.
So it’s really important; it’s not a small thing we can overlook. Therefore take a stand. Refuse to accept the words “racism” and “racist” unless they’re used properly. State why. And by all means, don’t use these words against your perceived enemies either, thinking you are somehow turning the tables on them. By doing so you are acknowledging the sentiment held within them, which then can be used against you. Better to find other words with which to express yourself.
Don’t be a dope. Protect our language by insisting those who speak to you use precise language, or reject what they’re saying if they don’t.
One thought on “A Study in Simple Semantics: Meaning of “Racist” and “Racism””
Thank you for clarifying this debate.