What is racism?

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines racism as “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.”

Recent events have made it abundantly clear that race still plays a significant and powerful role in 21st-century America. Yet, although race—an observed and verifiable trait—is something that can be measured objectively, racism is being calculated much more subjectively. Resultantly, the idea is much more susceptible to manipulation.

The inherent difficulty with racism is that the belief cannot be quantified, but the behavior, a presupposed reflection of belief, is readily observable.

Sometimes objectionable behavior can result from racist beliefs, but in other instances, the behavior is rooted in something completely different and benign. The problem, of course, is that if the mainstream deems certain behaviors as unequivocally racist, an erroneous label is subsequently placed on individuals who execute certain behaviors without the correlating belief. This paradigm ironically uses prejudice to sort out and label others as prejudicial. This method produces prescriptions for “proper behavior” and, by implication, thought control. This need not even apply to race. A very common application is seen with accusations against Christians: “Since you don’t agree with this, then you must think that … therefore you must be a bigot!”

Ultimately, if racism truly is something clear and determinate, then there ought not to be such ceaseless disagreement over what is “racist” and what is not.

Yet, what most people fail to realize is that if racism is kept nebulous and ill defined, it therefore becomes much easier to control and exploit because no one really knows where it starts and where it begins. The answer to racism, of course, is the organizing principle of equality, an end that can never be achieved. This does not prevent the state from trying to grasp that goal, and in so doing, the state assumes more power, creating more inequality, thus necessitating more state.

This does not dismiss the utter tragedy of current events in the slightest, nor does it minimize the fact that racism in its most detestable form is thriving. For example, according to witnesses, in a very clear instance of blatant racism, Dylann Roof walked into a church in South Carolina specifically to “shoot black people.” He also told his victims (all black) prior to shooting them, “You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”

But what if the example is not so obvious? What if the behavior may seem “suspicious,” but the assessment of the person’s internal beliefs essentially comes down to attempts of mind reading? Because even if you have logically sound and blameless reasons for your outlook, if the behavior is deemed unacceptable by public opinion, your beliefs and the condition of your heart become irrelevant. Hence, the only way to satisfy the desires of popular demand is to acquiesce and abandon your views, even though you do not cherish and hold onto them with malice or malevolent intent. Realistically, the most dangerous forms of racism aren’t the ones that are obvious and easily visible—the most dangerous forms of racism are the ones hiding in plain sight, pretending to “behave” in popular fashion.

A racist threat does not exist in the Confederate flag per se. Taking it down is only a cosmetic fix. The flag is just an inanimate symbol, a symptom of a much larger disease. This disease, of course, is racism, and it has many visible symptoms. In plain sight, urban education has robbed innumerable numbers of black children of an education. In plain sight, the war on drugs has caused gang violence, death, and countless numbers of black men going to jail. This may explain why in the past three decades, the number of people in prisons and jails has grown by a factor of five. In plain sight, extraordinary numbers of African Americans are being mistreated by law enforcement, and police brutality all across the country has mercilessly murdered unarmed people of color who have committed non-violent crimes or done nothing illegal at all. And guess what? All of these events occurred well after the Confederacy, under the tenure of the American flag.

The Confederate flag may be used as a symbol of racism. The Confederate flag may signal a desire to re-enslave people of color. It may also be used as a sincere symbol of states’ rights, individual autonomy, minimal government, and a deep-felt heritage. Hanging a flag is a behavior, and it may or may not signal a perverse internal belief. Albeit, what history does teach us is that the Confederacy would not have had to fight for slavery if slavery had not already existed, being sanctioned by enactment of the United States Constitution in 1789. That same Constitution deemed persons of color to be three-fifths human. Again, this happened under the tenure of the American flag, and slavery remained legal for 76 years until 1865 (13th Amendment).

Before the Confederacy was even born, the disease of racism had infected the entire American nation, and the American flag still hangs proudly from coast to coast without any calls to remove it. If people really want to take a racist symbol down, I wonder if they’re focusing their attention on the wrong flag. It is now clear why curing the underlying disease is much more important than chasing after symptoms.

On the other side of the argument, many people may cherish a symbol cognizant of the good it stands for while also acknowledging, but not embracing, the bad. A person who looks at an American flag may not think about slavery at all. They may see capitalism and apple pie and are proud to have fought for these things. A Japanese American may not see internment camps in World War II but a better life for his or her family. A Democrat may see a flag that represents marriage equality and not see perpetual war. A Republican may see unsurpassed military might but not see social entitlements. And a libertarian, despite all his or her rants, may see the symbol of the only place they would honestly prefer to live.

Ultimately, racism is a disorder characterized by deep-seated hatred of persons of a particular race.

This profound internal disorder transcends the boundaries of external symbols and is motivated by a much, much deeper miscalculation of judgment than the simple appreciation for a historical flag. While unfortunate and destructive, hatred is a sheltered style of belief and behavior, and it will form the basis for some associations. The price of freedom is that we tolerate the non-violent expression of hate.

However, while a Confederate flag to some represents Southern pride, to others it represents slavery and an insurgent rebellion. Well, guess what? History teaches us that it represents both at the same time, and in order to change that paradigm, you would have to change history. Hence, there is no “right” answer to what it stands for. What is right, however, is that a government of any kind should not hang the flag of a non-existent political entity. That would give the government the power to have a belief and then act on that belief. Governments ought not to have opinions, and the government does not enjoy freedom of speech—only people have that right.


Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal

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