What Is A Racist? Tell Me, Tell Me, If You Think You Know

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 9.648% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

WARNING: There is no objectively correct answer to the question I am about to raise. There are only personal answers, rooted deeply in scars and society, that turn out to be unsatisfying when you overlay them with everyone else’s answers.  If you think there’s one approach, you are wrong.  This is dangerous territory.  Please keep all hands and feet inside the vehicle.  
I’ve had racist thoughts.  So have you.  Oh, some of you would prefer to think why I never, that you’re above that sort of thing – but really, it’s impossible to walk into this mire and mass of complex culture without stepping on it once in a while.  Chances are good you’ve even expressed racist sentiments.  Possibly without even understanding that they are racist.
Yet here’s the thing: at some point, once you’ve expressed enough racist sentiments – and that tipping point differs for every single human being on the planet, a unique and crazed individuality – you move beyond “acting racist” and become “a racist,” which is an incomplete statement.
The full phrasing is “a racist piece of shit.” Once you pass the area of “occasionally being racist” to “a racist,” all your thoughts are suspect.  A racist may occasionally be right on something, but it’s in that stopped-clock-is-right-twice-a-day fashion where you’ve stumbled upon the correct answer via an incoherent set of crazed half-logic jumps that don’t make any real sense.  Becoming “a racist” means that you can be safely ignored.
Except that weirdly, being “a racist” seems to be something that springs from the heart.  You’ll see debates on people who’ve said something extremely stupidly racist, trying to determine whether they’re just acting racist or are racists.  Often you’ll see heartfelt pleas from people, claiming that they know this person and they know that s/he’s not a racist because they’ve spent time with them and they are this race, and they know that while s/he has made grievous errors, perhaps repeatedly over the course of decades, they’re not a racist.
So “a racist” often seems to be something that springs from intent.  You can act in a lot of racist ways, but your heart means well, and though you have had moments of enabling and propagating racism (as, I stress, we all do), your purity of spirit means that you have not crossed that line into “a-racist-ville.”
…maybe.  Or maybe not.
All we know is that almost nobody in mainstream culture wants to be a racist, and it’s a shame that the English language draws such a shoddy distinction between “acting racist” and “being a racist,” because if you accuse someone of being a racist, they will often go fucking berserk.  (If you accuse them of being racist they’ll often go berserk because that’s one step down that thorned path to being a racist, and they know they’re better than that and HOW DARE YOU.)
The reason I bring all of this up is because there were some reactions to my post yesterday on Ron Paul, mainly “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING, FERRETT?  A PERSON WHO UTILIZES THE EXISTING LIES ABOUT MINORITIES TO GET AHEAD IS MUST BE A RACIST.”  Which, as I said in the opening warning, is a completely valid viewpoint.  Perhaps becoming a racist isn’t in the heart, but in the deeds.  While there are certainly any number of politicians who’d be willing to sell out anyone, regardless of race or creed or class, in order to get into power, perhaps the ones who have used their leverage to shit on the little guy have crossed into a-racist-ville regardless of what’s under the hood.
Or maybe not.  The problem with all of this roiling stew is that everyone has their own personal definition of when someone stops “acting racist” and becomes “a racist,” and if you’re too kind then nobody’s a racist and the term has no meaning at all, and if you’re too quick to judge then everyone on the planet is a racist, and trying to determine when (or if) someone’s deeds begin to reflect their personal intention is such a crazy cluster of personal judgment that nobody can separate it to the satisfaction of everyone else.
So are those politicians I discussed yesterday racist – or, rather, are they each a racist?  Or are they just such piece-of-shit human beings that they’re not in fact racist, but enabled such racially horrid laws and rhetoric that they somehow wind up lower than racists because they’re hollow-hearted assholes who’ll say whatever it takes to get elected?  How many flavors of asshole do we want to distinguish among before we just lump them all together as one shitty hole we shouldn’t sit underneath?
Nobody knows.  And everybody knows.  But everybody knows in their own way, and often are not just astonished but enraged that anyone else could have a different definition.  And they’re often right to be astonished and enraged.  And that’s just one facet of why all this race stuff is so goddamned complicated.

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