NEW YORK Sept. 18, 2016/ Troy Media/ – Have you been called a racist yet today? How about just a plain old bigot?
If you have not been called a racist and thus saddled with the modern day version of a scarlet letter then it’s safe to say you haven’t left your home or gone online.
In the waning days of the first African-American president’s time in office, race has become more, and not less, of a divisive, emotional and violent issue in the United States.
Donald Trump has been called a racist for an immigration policy that would see a wall built along the southern border with Mexico and for at least suggesting that a Muslim ban be put in place on those seeking to enter the United States.
His remarks directed towards minorities – African-Americans and Latinos in particular – have likewise been seen as offensive and condescending – with a tone-deafness that is stunning for its consistency.
Not content with letting his own words be enough to reveal character, Hillary Clinton has taken what must surely be the unprecedented step for a presidential candidate of branding many of those who would dare vote for him as “irredeemable” and “deplorable.”
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Her remarks were blunt: “To just be grossly generalistic, you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it.”
But what if what is routinely branded as racist is more accurately and helpfully referred to as fear and ignorance? In the context of racial attitudes, ignorance is the lack of experience, knowledge and directed learning that allows a person to be immersed in the social and life circumstances that foster adaptation to the world as it really is and not as they perceive it to be.
Ignorance and stupidity are not synonyms. An ignorant person can learn; a stupid person will not respond to any amount of teaching.
Would it not be more helpful to resist the urge to immediately label ignorance as racism – in effect refrain from pushing the gas pedal from 0 to 100 in four seconds flat and instead create the circumstances of mutual understanding that could foster growth and social evolution?
The truth of life is that many of us occasionally make hurtful comments in private that do not evince actual malice.
Did I say in private? Very many people make the same mistakes in public.
In an appearance on the Tonight Show in 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama commented on his bad bowling skills by saying “It’s like the Special Olympics or something.”
Vice President Joe Biden thought he was complimenting Obama in 2007 when he said that the then Senator Obama was the “first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” while running against him for the Democratic nomination.
A year earlier, Biden told an Indian-American supporter that “you cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking.”
If such publicly polished individuals slip up, it just might show that someone can say something that is racist or insensitive without being a racist or prejudiced person – they may only be temporarily ignorant. Those of us of a certain age may well remember the sometimes shocking and casual racist comments of our parents and grandparents which were completely normal to them but unacceptable in the context of modern and enlightened thinking.
I suspect most of us live our lives trying to do the right thing, taking care of our own families and not giving a whole lot of thought to anyone or anything not within that very closed rubric. I suspect that being called a racist when one does not have hate in his or her heart feels like nothing less than a relentless assault on one’s spirit and psyche and closes them off to personal evolution.
Yes, racism is an undeniable evil and a stain on society. But it takes generations to change deeply held bias. Society might be healthier if we recognized and treated the disease without condemning the patient.
Calling millions of Americans “irredeemable” is not the way for a potential president in waiting to go.
In fact, one could view the comment as downright ignorant.
Troy Media columnist Gavin MacFadyen is a U.S based writer and occasional lawyer. Blending insight and wit, he brings a unique perspective to the issues of the day. Gavin is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.
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