Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Racism: It Is What It Is

In the wake of the appalling comments by journalist Darryl Heeralal, I've taken a lot of flack for:

a. daring to deem the statements racist, and

b. daring to ask how someone who has claimed such racist sentiments as his own can then be said to -not- be a racist.

Before I go on, let's take a moment to remember what all the fuss is about:

A terrible traffic accident on the Beetham Highway took the lives of a woman and her two children dead and left three others hospitalized on Sunday. Concerned with the TTPS' handling of the accident Sea Lots residents clashed with the police and subsequently vowed to shut the country down with protests. They kept that promise on Monday.

Heeralal had this to say:

And when he was asked just what what he meant by "nigga"...

He was subsequently fired from his freelance position at WIN Communications.

Now, I've been criticized for sharing this hate speech as well, so before we move on, let me just point out that racism flourishes in darkness. The ugliness of this statement should be aired in order to draw attention to it and teach those who are defending his statement by declaring that "plenty people think the same thing" that it's not okay. Once upon a time it was widely believed and entrenched in law that black people were sub-human. We've largely moved past that idea. I'm hoping we can move past these ideas as well.

Ok, so now that we're all caught up, let's address the crux of the criticism I've faced about the racist nature of those statements. The following is going to be obvious to some (hopefully most) of you, so you can feel free to skip the next three paragraphs. For those who feel that these declarations are not racist but are willing to entertain a dissenting opinion, indulge me for a moment:

A racist comment is generally defined as one which is based on racial intolerance/discriminates on the basis of race. As I've said elsewhere, the above comments use a racial slur to denounce a specific group of people while calling for violence to be perpetrated against them. They are therefore racist, as they are based on the racial intolerance that informs them.

As for whether the question of whether the individual who espoused such hate speech is racist himself... well, despite the obviously racist nature of the statement, I don't feel great about conclusively branding him a racist. Why? Because (as I've also said elsewhere) we've turned the term "racist" into a cultural boogeyman. The effort to illustrate the inherent danger of racism has led to the belief that racists are monsters. Nothing could be further from the truth. Racists are people who hold/espouse discriminatory views about other people based on race. It's as simple as that. 

And yet, because the term is so ugly and loaded, I still feel uncomfortable laying it on anyone's head. Still, given the vehemence of the above posts...

At this point, I should point out that Heeralal has since issued an apology:

So, at the very least, it would seem that the question of whether the comments were racist has been settled rather conclusively by the man who made them. As for the latter question, I sincerely hope the apology means makes the whole thing moot.

No comments:

Post a Comment