Monday, December 06, 2004

on calling someone a racist

A commenter, Kevin, on the Belmont Club responds to David Horowitz's accusation that liberals use the word "racist" improperly. His response is to point out several times that David Horowitz has used the word and then to accuse him of a double standard.

David Horowitz has one standard: you can call someone a racist if he is a racist. You shouldn't call someone a racist just because you don't like him or just because he disagrees with you on social policy. When David Horowitz uses the word "racist" he actually means that the person is a racist --that is, the person believes that blacks are less human than whites in some sense (for example, because they hold blacks to a lower standard) or believes that race is an important property for judging people, or something similar.

By contrast, Kevin calls Horowitz a racist because of Horowitz's position on reparations. There is nothing in Horowitz's position that implies he holds blacks to a different standard (quite the opposite) or that he thinks race is an important property for judging people (quite the opposite).

It is this cavalier use of the word that Horowitz criticizes, and not the proper use of the word. Can this really be so hard to understand?

Due to the common misuse of the word, if you are going to call someone a racist today, you owe the reader an explicit account of what you mean by that accusation. And if all you mean by it is someone that doesn't believe the government should give special privileges to minorities, then the word, as used by you, is empty.

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