17 May 2011

What is a Racist?

Here’s an interesting thought experiment:  how can you determine if someone is a racist if they don’t admit to it?  When answering the question, keep in mind that the dictionary defines racism as “a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others.”

Given that racism is a belief, it becomes readily apparent that you cannot tell with certainty whether someone is a racist unless one admits it.  Beliefs are internally held views that are not readily apparent to anyone unless actually expressed.  Thus, charges of racism are usually little more than histrionics directed at someone in order to smear them.

Consider this hypothetical scenario:  Bill, a forty-five year old white male is the manager of a successful restaurant.  He has a twenty-five year old black female named Donesha that works under him.  She was hired by Bill five years ago and has performed her job well.  Unfortunately, she was late to work the last three times she was scheduled to work, and made a large number of embarrassing mistakes while on the job, causing multiple customer complaints.  Bill decides to fire her.  Is Bill a racist for doing so?

Now let’s change one variable:  Donesha was hired by Bill’s predecessor, not Bill.  Is Bill a racist for firing Donesha?

Let’s change another variable:  Donesha’s poor work performance actually began shortly after she was hired five years ago.  Is Bill a racist for firing Donesha?  Now, let’s say that Donesha has always performed her job well, and has never lapsed.  Is Bill a racist for firing her?

The point in all this is to demonstrate that any given person’s behavior is generally motivated by more than one factor.  Bill might well be a racist, but he is also a manager.  It may be that his economic motivation trumps his racial motivation.  It may that he’s been looking for any excuse to fire Donesha.  It may be that he reluctantly hired Donesha and, as a result, has decided to hold her to a higher standard.

Unfortunately, we cannot be sure whether Bill is a racist, and whether race was a motivating factor for his actions unless he tells us.  Incidentally, this demonstrates why most charges of racism are disingenuous:  quite simply, those who pass judgment have no way of knowing for sure whether the person being judged is actually a racist unless he or she admits to it, which rarely happens.

No comments:

Post a Comment