The words "racist" and "racism" have been thrown around so much lately, they have just about lost all useful meaning. The really sad thing is that the accusations, in most cases, are so vague that they can't be answered or defended against. When opposing groups refuse to use the same language in their debates, there can be no possibility of coming to a positive resolution, and these opposing groups are not speaking the same language. They might all sound like English, but sound is all they have in common.
We have, however, been handed a double feature in the news lately that might help to explain some of this. Or maybe they will just lead to more unanswered questions. I'm not really sure. We've had two specific, high-publicity accusations of racism in the press in the last week or so that both share a common (and important to this discussion) feature and comparing them might bring some answers. Those cases are, of course, Rep. Joe Wilson shouting "You Lie" at President Obama during the latter's Congressional speech and hip hop artist Kanye West upstaging Taylor Swift during her VMA award acceptance.
You might be asking yourself, a politician and a performer? What could their cases have in common? (Aside from the obvious. Insert your favorite politician joke here.) What they have in common is this: they've both been accused of racism even though there was nothing overtly racist in their specific speech or actions.
Wilson said two words and, right or wrong, those two words are the opinion of many Americans. There was nothing racial about them. There is certainly no one claiming that only one race lies or that one race never lies. Wilson claims that his moment was an outburst, a momentary loss of temper and restraint. The argument goes that Wilson would not have had that loss of restraint if the President were a white man.
West hijacked a special moment to make an announcement with which many of his fans - and fans of hip hop in general - agree. There was nothing racial in his words. He certainly didn't say that only black women should be nominated in this category nor that white women shouldn't win it. West claims that he was just giving a shout out to a friend and lost his head. The argument goes that West would not have lost his head had any black women won the award, regardless of whether or not she was his specific friend.
Do you see the similarity now? Do you see the comparison? Here's where it gets tricky.
Those who have accused West of racism are now being accused of racism for seeing it where none was overtly evident. To make the claim that "a black man offended against a white woman so it must be racism", you must be a racist. Those making this argument even go so far as to ask, "Where were you when Wilson was disrespecting the President? Why the outrage here and not there?" They are apparently oblivious to the fact that every major news organization on the planet (including the of-so-conservative Fox News) ran articles denouncing Wilson's outburst. Many of those organizations, in fact, immediately jumped on calling Wilson a racist. New York Times columnist (and world famous class and race baiter) Maureen Dowd went so far as to swear that she heard the unspoken word "boy" on the end of Wilson's outburst. You should also keep in mind that the people making this argument are, on the whole, the exact same people who are accusing Wilson of racism. So, in essence, they're saying it's okay to accuse a white man of racism without evidence but it's not okay to accuse a black man of racism without evidence.
Wait a minute. Did I say "without evidence"? It gets better. This is the second time that West has had such an outburst against a white female singer. West has been documented numerous times making racist and racial comments. While this specific incident did not overtly smack of racism, West's history does lead to the question. What is there in Wilson's history that leads to the question of racism? If it exists, I haven't seen it. Have you? Do you honestly believe that, if such evidence existed, Wilson's opponents wouldn't be shouting it from the highest mountain? I don't.
You can't have it both ways. You can't use the racism card when it is convenient to your cause and ignore it when it is not. I can't prove anything in either case and so, you might notice, I haven't accused anyone of anything. I can ask questions, though.
My biggest question is, why aren't you asking these questions?