Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Who Defines What ‘Racist’ Means ?

By Musa Al-Gharbi

One key insight of the “discursive turn” in social research is that how concepts are defined, and by whom, reveals a lot about power relations within a society or culture. These definitions are not just reflections of social dynamics, but can have important socio-political consequences downstream: they can help legitimize or delegitimize individuals, groups and their actions; they can render some things more easily comprehensible and others less so; they can push certain things outside the realm of polite discussion, and introduce new elements into the language game.

The term “racist” is no exception.

In the past, “racism” primarily denoted overt discrimination, bigotry or racial animus. Incidents of this nature are far less common today, and far less accepted, than they were in previous decades. Indeed, in contemporary U.S. society, one of the very worst charges that can be leveled against someone – especially a white person – is to accuse them of being racist.

On balance, both of these developments are great.

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