Unfounded Charges Of Racism Are Hate Speech Too


Nicholas Waddy Associate Professor of History, SUNY Alfred
Font Size:

If there is anything that characterizes the rhetoric and the ideology of the far left, it is a pathological obsession with race and racism, and an almost reflexive tendency to accuse people on the right of racist beliefs and motivations.  Everything from opposition to Obamacare, to reading Shakespeare, to waving the American flag – anything and everything can be, and frequently is, diagnosed as “racism” by the inventive and cynical minds on the left.

Given the persistent efforts by leftists and the mainstream media to tie conservatives to right-wing fanatics, we who stand for conservative values must be extremely careful in the words we choose.  We must also make clear our own contempt for racism, hatred, and discrimination.  Of course, since in this day and age it is primarily the left practicing – unabashedly – racism, hatred, and discrimination, it should not be difficult for conservatives to stand against these evils.  It is the left that promotes an agenda of political correctness, that harasses and intimidates dissident voices, that endorses quotas and race preferences, and that pours scorn on white males.  And, lest we forget, at the forefront of the so-called progressive movement are American universities, which are sadly being comprehensively resegregated, so as to create “safe spaces” for minorities.  These are all dangerous and divisive trends, and in every case it is conservatives, not liberals, who are advocating non-racialism and equality.  To be fair, though, plenty of extremists on both sides want to divide America and set us at each other’s throats.  That is not at all what the Republican Party wants, or what President Trump wants.  We want opportunity for all, liberty for all, and respect and dignity for all.  We may disagree at the margins, but this broad acceptance of the supreme value of human and civil rights ought to unite the country, not divide it.

Unfortunately, America is anything but united at the present time.  Tempers are flaring, and not since the Vietnam War era have people on the right and on the left held each other in such contempt.  Anyone who is inclined to discuss politics via social media will know how quickly such conversations turn to personal insults, and invariably to irresponsible charges of bias.  That is the sad reality of contemporary American political discourse.  It grows more asinine by the day, and the loudest voices seem invariably to be the least responsible.

All too often, our barbs and our broadsides are meant to delegitimize, intimidate, and silence the opposition, and to end conversations before they can even start.  A charge of “Racism!” is ideal for this purpose.  The person targeted by the charge is assaulted at the level of his (usually unprovable) motivations, and even his decency and humanity is cast into doubt.  Given our long national struggle to overcome a history of racial discrimination and mistreatment, a charge of racism arguably is one of the most toxic that can be launched.  As “Antifa” activists are proving, such an accusation can literally destroy lives and livelihoods.  Indeed, to be called a racist is potentially more damaging to a person than to be called, say, by a racial epithet.  Both are hurtful and intimidating, but the difference is that modern society despises racists, while it rallies to defend people who are targeted because of their race or ethnicity.  Racists are perpetrators, evildoers.  Victims of racism are exactly that: victims.  I do not wish to minimize the pain and degradation that victims of racism experience, particularly when that racism leads to violence, or to the denial of one’s civil rights, but the fact remains that to call someone a racist, even casually and without cause, is potentially to do them, and their reputation, permanent harm.  It is, or can be, a withering form of slander.

Leftists have gotten away with making unfounded and irresponsible charges of racism for decades.  I say “gotten away with,” but in truth they have faced a penalty for their illiberal use of racist allegations.  Their credibility has taken a nosedive.  Donald Trump, when he was running for President, was labeled a racist much more frequently than a typical Republican candidate for high office.  Those charges did not prevent him from winning, however, because they were easy for Republicans and conservatives to discount.  They were easy to discount, because charges of racism are flung hither and thither in American politics every day.  They hurt, and they can dominate the news for days and even weeks, but in the final analysis they carry relatively little weight, when proper damage control is applied, and when the short attention span of the media inevitably dictates a new story line regardless.

Liberals are not fools, of course.  They understand that to call someone a racist does not sting as much as it used to.  They have a solution to this problem, though: they simply escalate the scale and intensity of their attacks.  For instance, why call someone a racist when you can label them a white supremacist or a Nazi instead?  Naturally, white supremacists and Nazis do exist.  But today, views that are explicitly racist, let alone white supremacist, are confined to fringe elements.  How do we know this?

About 90% of white Americans approve of interracial marriage.  That number has climbed steadily in recent decades.  The percentage of whites who still believe in school segregation is in the single digits, whereas it was close to 75% when the movement to promote integration began in the 1940s and 50s.  More than 90% of white Americans express a willingness to vote for a black candidate for President, although that may not bring much encouragement to President Obama.  The preponderance of the evidence suggests that overt racism (as opposed to racial bias, which is another matter) is NOT a mainstream phenomenon among whites.  Thus, the liberal article of faith that Republicans and conservatives are presumptively racist is based on a falsehood.  It is based on the idea that racist and “white supremacist” beliefs are vastly more common than they truly are.

When confronted with a phony charge of racism, not every American has the financial resources, the institutional and legal support, or the impenetrable hide of a politician.  For an ordinary person, such a charge is undeniably hurtful, and in some professional and personal contexts it is devastating.  It thus behooves all of us to reserve such claims to instances where real, provable animus exists.  “Racism!” should not be a throwaway line, to lob at anyone who dares to contradict you.  It is rather a serious offense against the American values of liberty, equality, and individual dignity.  It is often a crime.

I implore all Americans, therefore, to treat one another with civility, and to address the arguments of the other side rationally and without descending to personal attacks, especially when they are based on assumptions rather than evidence.  Simply put, a charge of racism is not a weapon to be wielded casually, and neither is hate the answer to hate.  Surely as Americans we can do better.

Dr. Nicholas Waddy blogs at www.waddyisright.com.