Rude people are not necessarily racist

racistdog.jpgIt’s almost become a buzzword in the social circles of the critically minded — racism this, racism that. Racism is bad, PERKASA is racism, Tun Mahathir is racist, UMNO is racist, DAP is racist, BTN deputy director is racist, Johor school principal is racist. 

Even amongst the best of us, i think we’re teetering very close to what i’d call the “racist trap”. Take a step back, please.

Racism, by definition, is to believe that one race is either (a) superior than others or (b) inferior than others. Through genetic disposition alone, a race is considered good or bad. Such beliefs will likely lead you to making predisposed judgements about someone based on their race; if you’re an employer, it will make you less likely to hire someone whom you feel is “inferior” due to his race. If you’re a teacher, it will make you less likely to objectively evaluate a student belonging to that “inferior” race. These are clear examples of racism, and should be condemned by every rational thinking mind.

However, there is a fine line between being racist and acting on your beliefs and just being rude. Rude people are not necessarily racist and, interestingly, racist people are not necessarily rude. 

So when a BTN deputy director shoots his mouth off and talks about “si mata sepets” (those slit eyes, referring to chinese) or “si botols” (those drunkards, referring to Indians), was he just being rude, or was he being racist? (he later goes on to claim that it’s the right of Malays to rule — that bit is clearly racist)

A similar discussion is going on in the United States over derogatory terms to describe black Americans, latino Americans and asian Americans. 

The use of the word “nigger” is a highly contentious issue in American society. Its roots come from the word “negro”, and was used by slave owners and, later, segregationists. Today, it is highly taboo for a white man to use the word “nigger” to describe or insult a black man. Yet, it also has become widely used within the black community in a diversity of ways, both endeering and insulting.

If a white man on the streets refers to black to walks by as a “nigger”, you can expect a negative reaction. If a black man calls his black friend a “nigger”, it can be meant as a term of endearment. Similarly, a white man may call his black friend “nigger”, and it will not create any animosity between them.

Words can have many meanings to many people. Some will find nigger to be rude. Some may take great offence and believe that the speaker of that word is racist. Some will just brush it off and think nothing of it. The same thing can be said of our own versions, “si mata sepet” and “si botol”.

Racism can be expressed in words, and it often is. When you tell people that you a portion of a nation’s wealth must be reserved for a particular race, at the detriment of another, equally deserving citizen, that’s clearly a racist policy. If you tried really hard, you could probably say the same thing in an extremely polite manner, but it’d still be a racist policy.

If that’s true, then the flipside must be true too — words containing racial connotations, while sounding rude, may not necessarily hold racist meanings. I think the burden of proof on racism needs to be a little bit higher — words behind actions makes a racist. Words behinds words is name calling; we’ve learned how to deal with that since our days in the local playground. If you’re going to call someone a racist, you better be sure you can make it stick — otherwise, you’re just pandering to the gallery and no better than him.

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